One of the “firsts” for me when I traveled to Australia was using a travel agent to book most of the trip versus researching and booking everything on my own. I debated how to book the trip because I knew a friend, who travels more than me, used a travel agent when she and her husband traveled to Fiji, Australia and New Zealand a couple of years ago. Since they travel more than me, I figured I should look into a travel agency and maybe give it a try.
The travel agency they used and recommended specializes in trips to Australia and New Zealand. They are based in New York City. My particular agent was Australian but lived in NYC. I reviewed the agency’s website to check out the itineraries they had available before calling them. The itineraries looked similar to what I had in mind if I booked on my own so I went ahead and contacted them. In the end, I moved forward with them and they booked a lot of my trip for me.
Based on my experience, the biggest advantage to using a travel agent is that everything was planned for me, all the way down to the airport and hotel shuttles. I did not have to think about anything. I always book flights and hotels and activities ahead of time when I travel but usually don’t book ground transportation to and from airports or hotels. In this case, I didn’t have to think about how to get to the hotels or airports. It was all done. It was a pretty great load to never have on my shoulders.
Another benefit of using a travel agent is that I was able to bounce ideas off of my agent and ask her lots of questions about various things. She could provide answers quickly which saved me hours of research and reading blogs and travel guides to find answers. My agent was a one stop knowledge base. It was very nice.
There were two main downsides that I found to working this travel agency, although I think they may apply to many, if not all, travel agencies.
The first downside occurred due to all the cancellations I had in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta area. The refunds for the cancellations were put back onto the purchaser’s credit card, which was not mine. Everything was officially booked by the travel agency. When I emailed my agent and asked for a refund, I was told that they do not issue refunds. Instead, I had to submit a claim through my travel insurance company (purchasing travel insurance was another first for me on this trip).
I am still pondering this process. How is this legal? It seems like a total racket to me. What is the incentive for an agency to book excursions that do not get cancelled all the time? They get the money back for cancellations but don’t have to refund their client. What if I didn’t buy travel insurance? And why does a travel insurance company have to cover something that a travel agency will get a refund for? I am sure it warned me in the fine print of the contract I signed that there are no refunds. I am not disputing that I agreed to it. But this practice seems so wrong and unethical to me. If someone has more knowledge about this process or I am misinterpreting the facts, please comment below. I would love to find out more. I really hope I missed a fact pattern somewhere.
The other downside relates to having everything done for me. I felt too uninformed throughout this trip. I didn’t do the in-depth research or book anything myself so I never had a good idea of where I was going or what I was doing next. When someone would ask me specific questions, I would have to refer to my paperwork. It was not a good way for me to do things when traveling solo. I felt vulnerable and less in control, which is important for me to have when I am traveling. I know this was my fault for being too lax in my preparation for the trip. and it is something I can easily correct if I use a travel agent in the future.
So would I use a travel agent again? I guess it depends on the situation and the destination. I am going to a wedding in April 2019 in Mexico and they directed all guests to use a travel agent for booking. As much as it pained me to do it, I contacted the agent and am booking through her, even though I know I could reserve everything quite easily on my own. I do not want to create any problems or drama for the wedding party.
But after that, I am not sure. I definitely prefer to book on my own. I love the research and booking parts of travel. I like my Excel spreadsheets and email confirmations. I learn so much when I do it myself. I felt like I missed out with my Australia trip. So I guess I will probably book on my own as much as I possible going forward.
I would love to know about other people’s experiences and thoughts related to travel agents. Do you use a travel agent? If so, why? What are the benefits you see? Do you have any bad experiences? What happened and what was the resolution?
Also, if you are interested in using the travel agent I used to plan my trip to Australia, please message me through the Contact page on my website and I will provide you with the information you need. I don’t have anything negative to say about my agent or the travel agency itself. The cons I mentioned above are personal to me and an industry-wide practice (I think).