Travel Agents: When You May Still Need Them (and How to Find One)

Since 1995, the number of travel agencies has fallen from around 35,000 to under 15,000, according to Airlines Reporting Corp. After all, sites such as FareCompare help millions find the cheapest airline tickets every day, and people are used to booking their own travel.

Listen as air travel analyst Rick Seaney tell Editor Anne McDermott when you really need a travel agent:

The 5 Things You Should Know to Find Cheap Airfare

Yet travel agents still exist, and you may benefit from using one. Successful travel agents are experts who are willing to go to bat for customers who find themselves in difficult travel situations. A great travel agent knows how to pull the rabbit out of the hat when you are stranded at an airport gate. If you booked everything yourself, you could find yourself out of options.

When Can You Benefit from Using a Travel Agent?

  • You are going somewhere exotic or to a new resort.
    Travel agents often know whether a new resort or hotel is safe and established enough to visit. You do not want to go to a new resort only to find that they have not finished installing plumbing or that it is still surrounded by construction equipment. If you are going somewhere unfamiliar or exotic, a good travel agent may know things like which areas of a city you should avoid.
  • You are traveling with the whole family or a group.
    It is difficult enough booking a trip for two. But trying to get a dozen friends booked on the same flight with reasonable fares is often a job for the pros. The same is true if you are taking the whole family on a trip. Especially with young children, you want seats together on the plane, and an accomplished travel agent can save you a lot of time and anguish in sorting this out.
  • When you have a crazy itinerary.
    If you are visiting several cities in a short time span, renting cars during your trip, and booking multiple hotels, a travel agent can save you time and go a long way toward making a difficult travel schedule go smoothly.

How to Find a Good Travel Agent
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you’re selecting a travel agent:

  • Did you get a good first impression of him or her? If the agent picks up the phone promptly, understands your needs and responds well to your inquiries, that is a good start.
  • Is he/she an ASTA agent? While it is no guarantee, look for the logo of the American Society of Travel Agents in travel agent ads. Find ASTA agents on
  • Does he/she listen to your feedback? If you are not satisfied with what your travel agent finds, does the agent try to force you to accept an itinerary, or get busy finding alternatives? Agents who try to push certain travel packages may be thinking more of bonuses than your best interests.
  • Is your travel agent forthcoming about surcharges? Surcharges are often well worth it if you end up saving money overall, but good agents discuss surcharges up front.

A good travel agent can save you plenty of trouble if you end up far from home when something goes awry. Your agent often has a direct phone number for your airline or hotel (rather than the 800 numbers found online) where he or she can really get things fixed when you are in a pinch.


Updated: November 13, 2014