More about this in a second…..
With the new year just around the corner, you cannot get enough information about how to save money on holiday travel when you need to visit family or want to plan a trip to see the folks you love. Those tips can be a lifesaver in helping you find a last-minute flight or vacation deal.
But if you’re tired of comparing the ever-growing number of booking sites and don’t want to add travel planning to your already-packed to-do list, I have good news: you don’t have to.
Over the past year, I was surprised to hear how many people answered my question by saying that they used a travel agent as part of their travel plans.
Travel agencies – a thing of the past?
I know, I know….travel agencies may seem like a throwback from the pre-Internet era, but they’re still around and the past five years have seen growth in the industry. Many independently-owned travel businesses specialize in specific destinations (such as Ireland or Israel) or types of trips (such as cruises or honeymoons).
To find out what professional travel agents offer that you can’t get from a booking site, I talked to two travel agencies, one a large chain and the other a local business. In addition to saving you time and hassle, travel agents can save you money on travel bookings and excursions. They also offer a lifetime’s worth of personal travel experience, which informs their recommendations.
What you need to know about booking holiday travel
First, I asked how travel agents and their clients approach holiday travel. Amanda Holland, Area Leader and Travel Consultant with Liberty Travel, says the holidays are “a peak time for travel, which means the price reflects the demand and space becomes limited quickly.”
However, that doesn’t mean it’s too late to book a Christmas or New Year’s trip for 2017. “As long as the traveler is open to destinations that still have space, there is time,” Holland says, explaining that “consultants use air alerts, last-minute space from partners, and a network of contacts” to accommodate last-minute requests.
Suzanne Shank, co-owner of Atlas Travel in East Norriton, PA, agrees that travel during the holidays is more expensive than at other times of the year. She says her agency hasn’t booked any holiday trips this year because clients decided [after seeing holiday pricing] to change their departure dates.
Shank also notes that recent hurricane damage has limited travel options in the Caribbean, contributing to higher prices.
If holiday travel was not in your plans or budget for the current year, it’s not too early to start thinking about next year.
Both agents recommend booking in advance when it comes to holiday travel. Shank says at least six months to be on the safe side.
I would add that while prices may be higher, you can make up for the difference by treating your trip as your holiday celebration and not spending money on gifts, food, and other typical holiday expenditures. My family did this one year when I was in college.
We spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s in Barbados and didn’t buy presents for each other.
It’s not the kind of thing you can do every year, but it is special to ring in the New Year in an exotic location, particularly a warm one.
If you do want to travel for the holidays, what destinations are trending this year? Holland says New Year’s Eve travel depends on individual preference, but “a lot of customers are sticking to the popular spots such as Las Vegas and New York City to declare their New Year’s resolutions and dance the night away.”
She also sees “families jetting off to an all-inclusive vacation in Jamaica, Cancun, or the Dominican Republic to avoid preparing a giant holiday meal and allowing themselves some quality, stress-free family time.”
European cities such as “Barcelona, Lisbon, Paris, and Amsterdam are…destinations where a customer can celebrate without having to take a whole week off of work.”
Shank has also been planning a lot of European vacations recently. She mentions London, Paris, Greece, and Morocco as current destinations of interest to her clients. And “all-inclusive destinations are always popular” in places like Punta Cana and Cancun, says Shank.
Benefits of working with a travel agent
Americans love to outsource inconvenient tasks. From clothes shopping to making dinner, companies like Stitch Fix or Blue Apron promise to make these errands easier or take them off your hands altogether, freeing your time and mental energy for other activities.
From that perspective, travel agencies are an old industry that is also perfectly modern. If there’s any time when you don’t want to be bothered with hassles and annoying tasks, it’s vacation. I asked Holland to explain the benefits of working with a travel agent for millennials like me.
As we always say, you’ll never get from the Internet what you’ll get from a travel consultant. The human touch and expertise is invaluable, especially when it comes to planning something as important as a vacation.
Travel consultants have access to the most up-to-date information. Not to mention, they have first-hand knowledge of most destinations and resorts.
The 24/7 live support by a team of experts provided by Liberty Travel is something that cannot be found online.
Travel consultants are there before, during and after your trip to answer questions, deal with any unforeseen issues (flight cancellations, weather-related situations, etc.) and handle details big and small so that travelers can sit back and enjoy the trip without stress.
As an example, Holland mentions the recent hurricane season with powerful storms affecting Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean. “Instead of waiting on hold for hours to rebook or reroute, travel consultants have it taken care of for their customers.”
Shank also emphasizes personal experience and professional expertise: “We have very traveled consultants who have been in the industry for years. We have the ability to recommend the perfect trip by knowing the products to fit the clients’ needs.”
As an example, she mentions a recent request from a family of six looking to travel to Greece.
“I’ve been more than eight times, have chartered sailboats and been on cruises and tours,” says Shank, who ended up recommending “a tour operator who does groups up to 16 passengers with all ages up to 50…This is what an active family would want, not a 3,000-plus cruise ship. They never heard of this and were grateful for my suggestion.”
Perhaps that–the potential of discovering a perfect trip or activity you didn’t know existed–is one of the biggest benefits of booking your travel through a human instead of a computer. Sure, you can spend hours reading every suggestion and review to try to stumble across that perfect trip on your own. But it’s hard to replicate years of experience without spending way more time than you’d ever want to.
You can save money with a travel agency, too
You may think the DIY approach is the only way to save on travel, but “consultants look at vacations, airfare, and travel partners all day long. Chances are, they are the first to see a sale,” says Holland.
Size and experience also help. “Through our tremendous network of hotels, resorts, escorted tours and cruises we have the buying power and access to negotiate the best pricing and pass that value along to our customers,” Holland adds.
According to Shank, “More times than not we are able to save the client money.”For example, she saved a family of four 20 percent off a recent trip to London and Paris.
Also, “we know of early booking discounts, such as when Alaska cruises go on sale. Plus we can guide the clients to a different date or departure location. We know where to go to find the tour that will meet the client’s needs. And the great thing is the tour operators pay us commission for selling them [instead of charging a fee to someone who books a tour on their own]”.
Save yourself the time suck of hunting for deals online and worrying that the best price is still out there.
Instead, you can develop a relationship with a local travel agent who will do the work of planning and booking a vacation that fits your needs and budget.
Even people who love the holidays often find them overwhelming. We want to find the perfect present for loved ones, attend seasonal events, and create memorable family experiences.
Working with a travel agent to plan a holiday trip can help you save time and money, as well as avoid the anxiety of choice overload.
Have you ever booked a vacation through a travel agent? Share your tips and stories in the comments.
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