No, the Internet isn't always the best option when it comes to booking your vacation. Find out when to turn to a travel agent.
Suitcase with travel stickers
Credit: Jonelle Weaver

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In the age of doing everything online, can working with a travel agent really save you money? Turns out the answer is yes because travel agents usually don’t charge customers for their services. Instead their payment comes through hotels and wholesalers, meaning you can tap into a free service.

If you can get a great deal in 30 seconds online, that’s preferable to playing phone tag with an agent, but there are times when planning a trip with a travel agent will save you time, money, and frustration. Here’s how to tell when you should use an agent and when to go it alone.

Use a Travel Agent If…

You’re Traveling With a Group

For group bookings that involve coordinating travel for multiple people, it’s always easier to use a travel agent, says Barbara Vong, a travel agent with Wright Travel Agency, the 2011 winner of the Best of the Best Globe Award from Travel Impressions. “I just had a bride call me because one of the groomsmen booked his own trip through a discount travel site, and he wanted to add someone to the room,” says Vong. “The customer service representative from the travel site he used told him they couldn’t do it, but they were probably just being lazy. This is a great example of when you’d rather hand the responsibility of changing that booking to a travel agent, rather than trying to fix it on your own.”

You’re Not Sure Where You Want to Go

Reading online reviews of a specific resort or city can take lots of time and effort. If you’re booking a getaway for your family, but your destination is still a question mark, an experienced travel agent can help steer you toward what you’re looking for (Family friendly? Beach town? Non-touristy?) “What I’ve noticed is that often our suppliers have better rates than what discount sites are offering, even when they advertise for ‘cheap last minute trips,’” says Vong. “Plus, if you start working with the same agent over and over for your travel, they become familiar with you and your needs, which makes it easier for them to help you pick out a spot you’ll enjoy.”

You’re Traveling Internationally

If you’re planning to travel somewhere out of the country, and you’ve never been there before, it might be a good idea to go through a travel agent. When you use an agent to book international travel, you’ll be able to ask a million questions, says Vong, and your agent will be sure to gather all the information you’ll need to make sure you’re traveling safely.

You Don’t Need a Travel Agent If…

You’re Only Booking a Flight

Let’s say you’re visiting a friend in Arizona and all you need is the flight out there. With all of the discount flight sites available, it’s usually easier, and generally about the same price, to just book it yourself.

You Want to Use Your Miles

Travel agents aren’t able to use your points or rewards card miles to book a flight or hotel for you—you’ll have to book on your own if you’d like to use them. “You also aren’t able to use points or miles to buy flights on sites like Expedia or Orbitz, either, only directly through the site of the company who is giving the points or miles,” says Vong.

You Find a Fantastic Deal on a Deal Site

Go ahead and book a travel deal that you find on a site like LivingSocial, Groupon or Travelzoo. Just remember that you’ll need to be flexible with the travel dates (most deals are offered for off-peak times, like travel on a weekday only, or for a Sunday night at a hotel), and be wary of expiration dates.