How to pick a travel agent

Finding a travel agent who is right for you requires research, recommendations from others and a willingness to pay a fee for services rendered.
Finding a travel agent who is right for you requires research, recommendations from others and a willingness to pay a fee for services rendered. ILLUSTRATION: NYTIMES

(NYTIMES) - Finding the right travel agent is like finding the right doctor, according to David Kolner, who oversees the travel agent membership programme for Virtuoso, a network of more than 15,000 agents globally. “This may sound extreme — after all, they’re only booking your travel — but your leisure time is one of your most valuable assets, so why would you trust just anyone with it?” he said.

Here, he shares his tips on how to find the perfect agent:

Do Your Homework

Finding the right agent requires research. Start by asking friends and relatives for recommendations — if people you trust are happy with their travels, Kolner said, chances are you will be, too. You can also ask for recommendations on Facebook. In addition, Virtuoso has a catalog on its site of 4,000 advisers; you can search by geographic location, areas of specialization and languages spoken. Other travel networks with agents include the American Society of Travel Agents, the Signature Travel Network and American Express Travel. You can also check out reviews of agents through a Google or Bing search or sites like Yelp.

Figure Out Your Needs

Do you want someone who is a specialist in a particular destination to assist with planning one specific trip, such as a gorilla trekking adventure in Rwanda? Or are you looking for someone who can help plan your travel for years to come, effectively someone who becomes a specialist in you? These can be the same person, Kolner said, but knowing what you want from the outset may lead you to a different adviser.

How Involved Do You Want to Be?

Some advisers like to plan every aspect of a trip, from booking airfare to making dinner reservations, while some are happy to offer a second opinion about your own research. Some prefer phone interaction, while others are comfortable conversing via email or text. It’s important, Kolner said, to work with an adviser who matches your travel planning personality. You can find out if advisers are happy to hold your hand or leave you alone by asking them directly.

“You’ll find that most are forthcoming about their communication style and travel planning process,” he said.

Don’t Be Scared Off by Fees

It’s not uncommon for advisers to charge a fee for their services, which could range from $50 to several hundred dollars, depending on the complexity of the trip. Kolner said charging fees was a growing practice because advisers spent several hours planning their clients’ trips and would have difficulty making a sustainable living without being compensated for their time.

“You are paying for an adviser’s knowledge and for the perks they’re able to score for you,” he said.

The extras advisers can get their clients at no cost could include room upgrades, early check-ins and late checkouts at hotels and airport transfers.