Good Travel Agent

A great travel agent is hard to come by. He or she must be trustworthy, knowledgeable, attentive and eager to find you the lowest price on the best option for your trip.

The world has gotten to be a much smaller and specialized place. The trick is: no one agent can do it all.

If you’re looking for a discount on Business Class to Europe, don’t consult with a Caribbean cruise specialist. If you want to whale watch in Alaska, don’t work with an agent who books ski lodges every day.

Travel doesn’t apply to the one-agent-fits-all mold. Be sure to find yourself an agent who speciliazes in where you want to go and what you want to do.

But, how do you find a trustworthy agent? Here are three questions to ask an agent you’re considering working with, from consumer advocate and USA today columnist Christopher Elliot:

  1. Ask for references: a competent agent should be willing to supply you with a short list of clients and their phone numbers.
  2. Verify the travel agent’s professional memberships: most reputable agents belong to either the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) or the Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA). This signals that the agent pledges to adhere to basic ethical and business standards.
  3. Look for accreditation: make sure your travel agency has an acceptable rating with the Better Business Bureau.

But, when is the best time to use a travel agent? Some trips are so simple to book that you shouldn’t bother to use an agent. For a simple transaction like a roundtrip flight or hotel booking, it would be easier to book yourself over the phone or online. Also, travel agents aren’t able to help when redeeming award miles and discounted packages on sites like LivingSocial, Groupon or Travelzoo.

A good travel agent is worth his or her worth in gold for the following situations:

  • Complicated Itineraries
  • Large discounts on long-haul International  Business and First Class flights
  • Large group or corporate travel
  • Theme park travel
  • When you want more options than what you can find online
  • When you don’t have the time to plan an elaborate trip
  • When you don’t know a lot about a faraway destination
  • If you expect to need an on-the-road advocate in case of cancellations, delays or other mishaps
  • If you need an expert for special occasions like a destination wedding or anniversary cruise

For more travel tips, watch Christopher Elliot on USA Today’s Travel channel.