When do you need a travel agent?


It’s become second nature for many of us to book airline tickets, car rentals and hotel stays ourselves. But there are certain times when you really need to hire a travel agent.

Beyond the basics, planning other travel needs like ground transportation for groups, tours, theater visits, theme parks and concerts to coordinate with your itinerary can take up tons of time.

A retired travel agent explains when you need to hire one

I’m a retired travel agent. Recently, I spent countless (too many) hours planning hotel nights, rail travel and tours to see as much of Ireland as I could in one fell swoop over just over two weeks.

Even I’ll admit that the time spent was a bit excessive. Studies indicate that travelers spend 30 hours researching and preparing for a trip and visit up to 38 websites before actually making a reservation. I may have exceeded those averages.

It wasn’t that I tried to over-plan and fill each and every day — I just wanted to know that all of the experiences would appeal to my style of travel (no big bus tours, ample free time, no evenings planned).

If I had not been an agent myself, I probably would have hired one for my Ireland visit. Here’s when having someone working on your trip can be super helpful…

  • Travel agents can guide an inexperienced traveler through taking their first trip overseas, when traveling to a destination where tourism is less developed, or when the trip is to multiple cities.
  • An agent can help you out of jams should you miss a flight connection, face a canceled flight, or for assistance when natural disasters strike like major storms, earthquakes, or civil strife that have an effect on your plans.
  • A travel agent can often help find the best prices on tours and cruises with exclusive promotional offers and deals. Estimated savings can be anywhere from $500 to $1,000 on international airfare and tours.
  • An agent will inform you about any necessary documents you may need: visas, vaccinations, and restrictions if you’re traveling to a religious or conservative country.
  • A travel agent can offer travel insurance options to cover anything that could arise on your trip.
  • An agent is key when you want to embark on a trip of a lifetime, like the inaugural sailing of spectacular ships, Disney vacations, or The Passion Play at Oberammergau, to name a few.
  • When your trip involves coordinating with a group of friends or family members across the county, an agent can keep things organized.
  • Cruise experts can help maneuver through the many ship options based on your group or multi-generational needs. Some ships offer refundable vs. non-refundable rates and guaranteed cabins vs. cabins with free perks. Which option is best for your needs? That’s where an agent’s expertise is key.

How much does a travel agent cost?

Can a travel agent help save time with trip planning? Yes, most definitely!

Can a travel agent save you money? Probably, but there will usually be some expenses on the front end.

You should expect for an agent or agency to collect fees for certain services. Ask your agent for specifics. Here are some averages:

  • Airline tickets: $25-$50 domestic round-trips or multi-city; higher for an international ticket (per itinerary)
  • Cruises: $30-$50 per person
  • Tours: $100 per person up to 8 nights; $175 9-13 nights; $250 14 or more nights
  • Last-minute: $100 per person (for trip arrangements for travel within two weeks of departure)

Some travel agents don’t charge any fees. That’s because they earn commissions through partner vendors.


Certain agencies may accept a planning deposit for custom trips above and beyond one destination or ones that may require various modes of transport and coordination.

A portion of that deposit or the full deposit amount may be refunded after the trip has been completed. That deposit (which is around $100 in most cases) may be asked for as a means to prevent a customer from booking elsewhere after the agent has done all the research.

How to find a good travel agent

So, how do you find a good travel agent?

Ask family, friends and co-workers who love to travel for a recommendation. Chances are they use the services of an agent.

You can also look for an agent at TravelSense.org, operated by the International Air Transport Association. Seek out agents/agencies with the ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) accreditation. There, you can filter agents by their specialty.

Each year, Travel + Leisure’s editors compile the A-List, a curated selection of the world’s best travel agents and destination specialists that are organized by worldwide regions as well as by specialty trips like fly-fishing, scuba diving, safaris and honeymoons.

Need help with cruise planning? Enter your zip code at Cruising.org to find a CLIA Certified Agent (Cruise Lines International Association) near you.

Final thought

Most trips probably don’t require the services of a travel agent, but if you’re planning something that involves any of the complications outlined above you might benefit from the help. These are people who do this for a living, so sometimes it’s best to leave the planning to a professional.

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