Forget the agent — 4 trips you should book yourself

Want to go somewhere? Book the trip yourself.

About half of all leisure trips are reserved online — give or take a few percentage points — according to several recent surveys. The latest, a Forrester Research study which showed an unexpected drop in the number of U.S. leisure travelers who booked online (it fell from 53 percent in 2007 to 46 percent last year) was a boost to traditional travel agents, who thought their days were numbered.

They might want to hold off on the celebrations, though. That’s because there are a lot of vacations you’re better off booking by yourself, despite a recent story in which I outlined some trips where you should consult a travel professional.

In fact, after that column appeared, I heard from dozens of indignant do-it-yourselfers who insisted travel agents were worthless. And so, in the interests of balance, I’m going to let them have their say-so. (For the record, I don’t think travel agents are worthless, but there are many agents practicing their trade who should probably be working somewhere else, just as there are many travel writers who should have taken their mother’s advice and gone to law school. But I digress.)

Before I jump into this thorny subject, a refresher: I believe honeymoons, cruises, round-the-world flights and certain international trips should be handled by a pro. Also, if you’re uncomfortable with the Internet or don’t have any time, a travel agent is a good choice. I’m also on the record as saying there are a few trips I can’t imagine planning through anyone but a travel agent.

“For the rest,” I noted. “I fire up my laptop.”

So let’s talk about the others, then.

1. When you know more than a travel agent
Travel professionals aren’t omniscient. If you know more about a particular route or destination, you’re probably better off flying solo.

Christine Porter, a field label evaluator in Seattle, wanted to work with an agent to book a complex airline itinerary to Anchorage, Alaska. The agent, though nice, drew a blank on the return flights. “I gave up on the agent and went home and searched on my own and found that the flights did leave Anchorage, but it was the next day at 1 a.m. — an overnight flight,” she says. “The travel agent was searching from 6 a.m. and later.”

2. If you’ve got the time
If you have an abundance of time —for example, if you’re retired — then you might be able to do at least as well, if not better, than an agent.

Joe Reynolds, a retired surgeon from Bastrop, La., says he often finds cheaper rates than he would through a travel agent, because he’s able to research every option. On one recent package that was being offered through an agent, he recalls seeing a hotel rate that was “way out of line.” He added, “If I make my own reservations, the cost is just about the same, but I have control over my seat choice. If I want to use frequent flier miles to upgrade it is easier to do than trying to go through a travel agent.”

3. If your agent isn’t interested in your business
Oddly, this happens a lot more than you’d think. Many agents would prefer you book a simple point-to-point airline ticket online. Why? Because there’s almost no money in it.

John Graham, an exhibit designer in Snohomish, Wash., recently asked several American travel agents to help him book a hotel in Japan. “At least two had no interest whatever in selling me anything but a package tour,” he remembers. “I wanted advice and was willing to pay something for it, but received little to no information about places I specifically wanted to go. Blogs connected to travel guidebooks were vastly more helpful.”

4. When your travel agent is negligent
You pay more for a travel agent because you get more, at least in theory. You get a professional who ensures your trip goes as smoothly as possible. And when that person isn’t there for you, then you probably should have just booked it yourself.

Take Gail Tighe’s recent trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Her flight was canceled, and her agent rescheduled it for the next day — without telling her. “We discovered the change when we checked in for the flight,” says Tighe, a retired forensic scientist from Hamilton, N.J. “We called the airline directly to reschedule the flight the same day.”

I don’t know of any competent travel agents who would disagree with these points. Travel pros who can’t do the job, won’t do it, don’t have the time or the know-how, should not get your business. They should get out of the travel business.

However, there are still incompetent travel agents out there who will be upset at this column — the ones who see us as walking commission checks and live for the next familiarization trip. For the sake of the travelers who inevitably will be their future victims, I hope they find another line of work. Soon.

Should you consider an agent for your next trip? I still say yes. I wanted to give a travel agent the last word in this column, so let me hand the mike to Chris Reimer, an agent for the British Columbia Automobile Association:

“I liken what I do to buying full-serve gas,” says Reimer. “You pay a little bit more, I do all the work and I take car of all the details — like making sure to remind you to check the expiry date on your passport and making sure you have adequate out-of-country medical insurance. The self-serve option is the Internet. You are doing the work, so it costs you a little less, but you are now responsible for all those little details that can make or break a business trip or vacation.”

(Photo: roham/Flickr Creative Commons)

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend