Navigating the travel industry between air travel, resorts, and cruises is not fun. To be honest I'd rather pay someone to do it. Its just not worth my time, and maybe an independent travel agent could help?
Being a fan of cruises I've been following /r/cruises on Reddit. I see a lot of posts about online booking such as VacationsToGo or Cruise Direct. The posts usually contains the following:
Before I share my experience here is what I was expecting from an independent travel agent:
Obviously that was too much to ask for....
My first Reddit travel agent was from a 20 person agency. Thinking I found a legit agent resulted in one phone call and was never able to make contact again. Thinking this was a fluke, like who would turn down a calling customer??, I tried a couple other travel agents. Some of these found online and others recommended by friends.
One travel agent I did get to work with quoted a ridiculous price. Around four times what I could get from an online booking. I don't think they realize we can compare prices on the internet.
Another agent took days to get back with me if they did at all.
Another agent lied to us when they told us they had been there and was great. What they really meant was they had been to the destination, but not to the particular resort we stayed at. Imagine our surprise when we pulled into a resort with an unmaintained entrance an hour away from our destination, the look on our faces was WTF.
My sour experience got me thinking, is a travel agent really worth it? The more I deal with them, the more they feel like a car salesman when buying a car. Just another layer of crap to deal with that in today's world is almost obsolete.
One thing that did catch me by surprise is booking with a travel agent doesn't provide, you the traveler/guest, any protections. I get more protection booking with my credit card than I do with a travel agent. The traveling agent will happily upsell me travel insurance for a pretty penny.
What does a travel agent offer that I can't do alone. My list of expectations above about travel agents haven't been met. Maybe there is some sort of scenario that they excel?
Bookings with multiple people? Nope, all that can be done with a "Capture Agent", more on that below.
Wedding and such? Doubt that either, that is normally considered a specialty/niche field and is often done with a planner of the cruise/resort.
I can't really think of anything else.....
When booking with an online service I normally call in and get a final price, example for a cruise ticket, port fees, and taxes. Some of the sites are really good at having all this listed, and some of them like to sneak in little fees.
When calling in you are directed to what is called a "Capture Agent". They are there to provide answers to questions and bookings. What is amazing about these is a lot of sites have capture agents 24x7. Got an itch to go cruise shopping on Thursday morning 3am? Capture agent will be there to give you a full price and ready to book if you are.
In all honesty and on a sad note, the Capture Agent acts more like a travel agent by giving a direct number and calling you back. Yeah imagine that, I'm grateful for an agent to call me back, and follow through with it. Don't like the cruise you called in about, they will happily search, email or read to you other options. What I would expect from a real agent.
One of the Capture Agents we work with actually checks all of the boxes on my travel agent expectations. What is amazing is I don't pay anything extra to book through "my capture agent". I can book 100% online and pay the same price.
At this point you might be wondering what is the difference between a capture agent and an independent agent? My capture agent works for one company and only specialize in one type of vacation, cruises for example. If I wanted to do a Europe landmark sight seeing they could not help with with that, only cruises.
My time has become the most valuable resource I have split between family, work, hobbies, and all the other things in my life. I really don't want to spend 6 hours planning cruises, accommodations, airfare, and making sure there isn't a gap between anything.
I desperately want someone that will take care of me and I can delegate the stress and time to a specialist. I'll gladdy pay a premium to know I'm being taken care of. Sadly I haven't been able to find it at all.
At this point maybe I should clarify my question into two questions.
Is there a place for a good well rounded travel agent. Yes! Is there a place for a crappy, non competitive, won't return calls type travel agent. No!
If you know of this mythical legit travel agent I cannot seem to find let me know on twitter!