In this internet age, a travel agent can provide you with service that your computer cannot. An agent can be your negotiator, planner, help in an emergency or resolve any problems that you may incur.
Although travel agents can save you from internet-induced information overload, know that the United States does not require agents to be trained or certified. Protect yourself when choosing an agent by following these guidelines:
You may interview an agent before committing to them. Ask them how long they’ve been an agent, to where they have traveled and if they have any training or certification. If you feel wary after the interview, it’s okay to shop around. After choosing possible agents, read internet reviews of their affiliated agency. Also, check with the Better Business Bureau for any history of complaints.
Some agents may be trained and certified, either after extensively visiting an area or through a simple certification test. Ask them the requirements of certification. Beware of agents that paid a travel agency group that offers instant travel agent credentials to ordinary people. They usually have no more experience or contacts than you.
Some trusted agent certifications include CTC (Certified Travel Counselor), CTA (Certified Travel Associate), DS (Destination Specialist) or MCC (Master Cruise Counselor). Or an agent may have an International Airlines Travel Agent Network card, have a certificate from The Travel Institute, or may be a member of the American Society of Travel Agents.
A good agent will also be available and accessible to you. Check that they can also be reached by email and that they respond to all queries promptly, even after the booking is complete.
When booking a trip, a good agent will ask you many questions to help determine what you desire from your trip. They should have a list of varied, detailed questions about how you prefer to travel, your budget, your expectations, seating preferences or who else is traveling with you. A good travel agent will also use a variety of resources when booking flights and vacations and will not focus on or “push” the company that offers higher commissions.
Some agents are specialized in cruises, leisure travel, business travel, or destination. If you are visiting an area for the first time, you should find a destination-specialized travel agent who can offer suggestions from experience. You could also call a country's U.S. tourist office and ask for a recommendation.
If you do not require any specialization, (for example, you’ve already visited an area multiple times), be sure that your agent has great deal-finding skills, contacts and exclusive access to hotels, shows, events and transportation. Overall, an agent should be professional, thorough, informative, organized and flexible. A great agent should give you more information and help than if you booked online.