Do It Yourself or Use a Travel Agent?

Links mentioned in this handout worked as of 1/1/05


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[Airline Bookings] [Cruises] [Exotic Trips] [Tour Packages] [Hotels] [Car Rentals]

Airline Bookings

Do It Yourself

You need to check a number of online sites for the best deal, check often since prices change daily and sometimes several times a day. Some carriers, including Southwest, limit their online sales to their own sites. A $5 fee is added to the price of the ticket from some all purpose online agencies, like www.Orbitz.com , www.Expedia.com and www.Travelocity.com . Major airlines do not do this but may charge a fee for booking via the phone. Point A to point B, without complications should be easy for you to do.

Use a Travel Agent

According to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), the average charge to book a flight is $26.55.

Complicated arrangements like multiple destinations on one ticket or group travel might become difficult and an agent with experience can help.

Tickets from consolidators can be questionable. A good agent will know the reputable ones and can steer you towards good prices, especially for international trips


Cruises

Do It Yourself

Checkout various lines and their ships at independent sites like www.CruiseCritic.com , www.CruiseMates.com , www.CruiseOpinion.com and, for smaller lines, www.SmallShipCruises.com . After you have investigated these sites and think you know what you want, use the toll free numbers provided on the sites or use the on line booking facilities. Online cruise specialists at www.Cruise411.com , www.CruisesOnly.com , www.CruiseBrothers.com and www.Cruise.com can provide additional information. Of course these special discount prices might not include many choices of cabins. You can check cabin availability and what rooms are like at the cruise line website. You might also check with different organization that you might belong to for special travel opportunities. The higher decks and mid ship are the most desirable locations. When purchasing travel insurance, read carefully to see what is covered and under what circumstances.

Use a Travel Agent

Travel agents do not usually charge the client for booking cruises. So if you are not sure what cruise line you would like to use or what trip you would like to take an agent could be a great help.

A good agent becomes familiar with the personalities of the different cruise line and ship. They can steer you towards the trip of your dreams.

Shore excursions can add a pretty penny to your total price. The ones provided by the cruise lines are usually very expensive. But, choosing local providers can be risky. An agent can help you choose safe excursions that may be more interesting and/or cheaper.

Agents can provide good information on travel insurance and tell you in plain language what you are getting for your money.


Exotic Trips

Do It Yourself

You really need to do your homework for these trips. It is best if you know someone who has been to or lives in the exotic place you plan to visit. You need to check the tour company carefully and pay by credit card just in case the company goes out of business. Even then there is no guarantee you will have an easy time of getting reimbursed. Visit the tourism and visitors bureaus of the places you wish to visit. You need to be aware of the services available to you in case troubles occur in some of the places you visit. Where is the American Embassy etc.


Use a Travel Agent

An agent becomes more valuable as more knowledge about your travel destination is required. An African safari might sound wonderful but do you really know what options you might have? Have you considered what you might want or be able to do? An agent can do the leg work for you and help you make decisions before you go on your trip. Because some people have agents spend hours gathering information on trips, some agents charge a fee for this service. If you book with the agent they usually deduct the fee from the price of the trip but if you do not book with them you might have to pay that fee.

Tour Packages

Do It Yourself

Sites like www.Orbitz.com , www.Expedia.com and www.Travelocity.com sell packages. You might want to try discount package sites like www.Go-today.com and www.Site59.com . Compare prices and packages at several of these sites. You might want to breakdown the price of a package by figuring out what the airfare and hotel room come to if purchased separately. Sometimes the package deal isn't as good as purchasing the items separately. Organizations like National Geographic, Smithsonian, even some credit card companies like American Express offer special tours that may interest you. Check your professional organizations for trip promotions.

Use a Travel Agent

Agents can be a wealth of information if you are not sure where you want to go and what you want to do. A good agent knows what questions to ask to help a traveler choose the tour that is appropriate for them. If you are going to a well known standard tour then you might find a better price on your own. But if you have special needs or want to customize a tour then an agent might be your best bet.


Hotels

Do It Yourself

When shopping for hotel rooms, most major-brand hotels will match and give you a bonus, such as an upgrade or free breakfast if you happen to find a better price on another site. Online sites, such as www.Hotels.com , www.Quikbook.com and all-purpose sites like www.Expedia.com , will also match a better price under certain circumstances. Being able to see list of hotels with prices at one site is nice but that may cost you since some online sites want you to pay up front and charge a fee if you do not book with them. Don't be afraid to call a hotel directly and negotiate for a room. Depending on the time of year, you might be able to get a wonderful deal. Local tourism sites can help you find inns and bed-and-breakfasts. B&B trade groups have sites that list B&Bs in many locations. Many provide pictures that are shown to their best advantage.

Use a Travel Agent

Agents do not only deal with major hotel chains. They can provide information on specialty places like B&Bs, villas, condos, small hotels, etc. Some agents are members of a consortium that get great deals in the US and overseas.

Agents often get special notices from hotels with special rates. If you have special needs like connecting rooms or room for children, handicap rooms etc. then an agent might help you with this.

The average charge for booking a room is about $15 per trip.


Car Rentals

Do It Yourself

Online travel sites like www.Orbitz.com , www.Expedia.com and www.Travelocity.com can usually provide prices for several car rental agencies. You can also go to the car rental agency site itself and check for their prices. They will also provide information of the type of car you are getting in each category. Be sure to look for information on whether mileage and/or insurance is included. If it isn't what are the fees. Picking up a car at the airport is usually more expensive. It may be cheaper to take a cab to another rental location for your pick up. Weekend rates are usually cheaper then weekday rate. You may want to use cabs for a day or two then pick up your rental when the rates go down.

Use a Travel Agent

Agents can negotiate bulk rates with some car companies. The more rentals they book with any particular company the better rates they may get the next year. So if you prefer other companies be sure to state that since they may want to steer you towards the companies they prefer to do business with.

An average fee for this service is $15 but if you are booking other travel arrangements with them they might waive this charge.

Mary O'Haver, January 1, 2005, mohaver@umd5.umd.edu