Are travel agents worth the extra money?

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t recommend the services of a competent travel agent in one of my columns. And the conventional wisdom — which is that a real travel agent can make your trip better — has gone unchallenged for years, if not by me then by my readers. Until last week.

Bob Barstow, a long-time reader of my stories, e-mailed me to question the validity of that claim.

In many, if not most of your columns, you give an impression about travel agencies that I just have not found to be true.

You imply that the business is full of agents dedicated to the travelers well-being, and will go out of their way for their customer. In all my years of traveling, both business and personal, I have yet to meet this agent.

Barstow suggests agents just book trips — and not always as efficiently as you can online.

Every single one I have worked with has done their job of arranging my booking — no more, no less.

For example, no agent has ever done a recommendation on which resort property I might like better. They have never asked what my interests are. I have even told them what I am looking for, and the best I get is a list of hotels that “would work for me.” When a flight has been messed up, no agent has ever done more for me than I have been able to do for myself on site.

He cites his most recent trip as an example.

Barstow used an agent to book a trip to Hawaii. “I asked him to look for flights that I could use my miles to upgrade to First Class,” he remembers. “He said he couldn’t do that, that I would have to handle it. Which I did, but when I made the arrangements, the Northwest Elite contact asked me why my travel agent didn’t do it in the first place. When I asked my agent, he said he couldn’t do it because it was travel agency policy not to use miles.”

Related story:   Why you're the journalist of the year

Then, on the ground, his disappointment with his agent deepened.

Both properties were Sheraton – on Hawaii and Oahu. I gave the agent my Starpoints number so I would get credit for the stays. He said, no problem.

Upon arrival at both properties, neither had the number in their system. I am still arguing with Starpoints for the credit. Because I paid the travel agency for the reservations, I am having difficulty getting credit for the stays. My receipts from both properties only show incidental charges, not the full amount I paid.

When contacting the agent, he has been no help. I get the impression that he really doesn’t care — we’ve taken the trip, he’s gotten his commission, case closed. He’s polite when I call, but gives the impression it’s not his problem.

Barstow’s question — and I think it’s a valid one — is, where can he find the go-the-extra-mile service travel agents are supposed to offer?

Are there any agents out there who care to answer?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • MsBaitandSwitched

    If you have been;
    overcharged, mishandled or simply SCREWED by FAREBUZZ!!!…

    Try calling
    one of the big heads at (888) 808-4123 ext 138, good luck and expect to be
    ignored  as well!!!

  • Richardfreyy


    I know this is an old comment of yours, but it is just what I try to convey to my clients! Richard Frey

  • Andy wittal

    I support the above statement but for few reasons i support travel agents because they are the only people who help in finishing the trip safely and comfortably……..thanks alot…….
    Cheap Flight To tirana

  • vettori900

    Hi there travel  agents are worth enough for what they are doing according to me because i found their costmercare and guidance to finish off the trip is excellent…


  • Kevin Warhus

    Share your experience about European travel with this quick 5 minute survey for a chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card! The survey is live until 8/20/13 when we will draw our winner. Thanks for your feedback.

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.