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I use the internet for pretty much everything imaginable today: staying in touch with family and friends, shopping, researching blog posts, reading the newspaper, watching TV, listening to music... But, I still use a travel agent when I book flights for my family.
Of course, there are a lot of websites out there that can help with finding flights and booking them. Still, I prefer to have someone else do it. Partly it's probably a question of "old habits die hard", but partly it's also the convenience of having someone else deal with the whole process of finding and booking our flights.
Another reason why I use a travel agent, is probably that I was lucky enough in 2009 (when I was booking a big trip to Maui for some extended family) to meet this one, extremely helpful, local travel agent that I mentioned. Since then, I've gone to her whenever I am traveling anywhere and need to book flights. So why do I insist on using a travel agent rather than do it all myself? Well, here are a few things my travel agent helps me out with:
Choosing a flight
My travel agent helps me look for, get the details on, and sift through several different travel options. This can help me with decisions like: Should I travel out of Vancouver or Seattle for the best price? Does it matter if I go a couple of days earlier or later than my planned travel date? What kind of departure and arrival times are available? My travel agent will usually get me several different travel options based on what she knows about my preferences. For example, she knows I don't want to travel through Heathrow (unless I'm going to England!), that I want to avoid layovers, and that I don't want to arrive in Stockholm too late when we're traveling to Sweden (because then I have a hard time finding a connecting flight to where my parents live).
Booking different travel dates for different people
When we travel to Sweden with my husband in the summer, he often stays for two weeks while I stay for a month with the kids. On those occasions, the travel agent will deal with the whole process of booking what is essentially two different set of flights, with the same departure date, but different return dates.
Getting the right information to the airline
My travel agent keeps my family's personal information on file (our full names and birth dates), so I don't have to give it to her every time all over again. Considering how paranoid I am about misspelling a name and ending up in a lot of trouble at check-in because of it, I feel better when someone I know I can trust does this for me.
Finding the seats I want on board
When traveling with kids, it really helps to get the best seats you can for your family. My travel agent knows I want access to the aisle, that I obviously want us all seated togehter if possible, and if that's not possible I want us on the same row, with the aisle in between rather than on different rows. Also, if you're booking your trip way ahead of time, you can't always reserve your seats right away. My travel agent will go back to the airline as soon as it's possible and get those seats for me. (The one time I used a different travel agent, that person did NOT do this for me correctly, even though they said they would. This made things a little nerve-wracking because my 9 year old son was officially seated one row in front of me. The airline cleared it up right before takeoff, but it was a hassle I really could have done without.)
I get an assist in case of trouble or if something changes
One added perk when I book through my travel agent, is that she will alert me ahead of our departure date if there are any changes to our flight times. The airline also does this, but it's nice to have that fail-safe in there. Also, though this hasn't happened to my family yet (touch wood!), my travel agent will also help me in case of severe travel problems or flight cancellations (think volcanic eruptions or severe weather). She gives me her contact number and if I run into trouble, I can call her her for some assistance if I need it.
All of the things my travel agent does for me are things I could definitely do by myself. I just really, really appreciate that I don't have to. Also, our flights are often international flights that require one or more connecting flights: if I was booking a single flight to a domestic destination, I might be more inclined to do that on my own.
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