Nohora Rueda was all set to take her parents and her 8-year-old son, Elijah, to Hawai‘i for his spring break. They were looking forward to staying at an O‘ahu resort, absorbing Hawaiian culture, and enjoying the sand and surf.
“Then the pandemic hit,” says Rueda, a labor-and-delivery nurse, recalling the sudden upending of her plans. But she had booked her vacation through AAA travel agent Pam Hardin, whose tenacity led to success. “She managed to cancel everything,” Rueda says, “and we got full refunds on absolutely everything—even the excursions.”
That level of service has distinguished travel agents, also known as travel advisers, during the COVID-19 pandemic. “When travel ground to a halt, one silver lining was the new recognition and respect given to professional travel advisers,” says Theresa Norton, editor in chief of Agent at Home, a travel industry publication. “Those who booked with a travel agent had the counsel of a professional who could cancel or rebook reservations, answer questions, and even make last-minute, lightning-fast arrangements to fly their clients home before borders closed.”
In an age when many people book their own travel arrangements online, the COVID-19 crisis has reminded travelers of the value of dealing with a live person. Here are four great reasons to use a travel agent.
1. To save time.
“When people book online, they’re the ones on the phone—sometimes for hours—trying to get a refund,” says AAA travel agent Kristin Armitage. “If you book with a travel agent, we’re doing that.”
2. To save money.
Because travel advisers build partnerships with hotels, tour companies, and cruise lines, they often can get discounts that are otherwise unavailable, says Norton. “Plus, they can secure perks such as room upgrades, free breakfasts, and early check-in or late checkout.”
3. To rebook with ease.
When the pandemic forced the cancellation of a Viking river cruise for two clients, Armitage got them a future cruise credit amounting to more than the original booking. The clients used that to book a Viking ocean cruise in 2021.
4. To make special arrangements.
Such as obtaining a wheelchair, if needed. “And we let you know if visas or immunizations are required,” says Hardin. “Things you might not know if you’re just booking online.”
Using a travel agent also builds relationships. “She feels like family at this point,” Rueda says.
Hardin concurs: “You don’t get the emotion—the joy—from a computer that you get from a real person.”