In today’s environment, where almost everyone proclaims that he or she is an expert Travel Agent it often becomes difficult to determine who the real Travel Professional is. With the advent of the Web, airlines, travel companies and reservations services , hotel rooms, car rentals, online vacation package deals, online B&B reservations, etc., etc are all ready to service you. This is great until you stumble upon a website that misrepresents the product it is presenting and you experience a bad trip. With this bad taste in mind you might discover many of the other “flavors” of travel agents that are out there claiming to be ready to serve you – but the question then becomes how do you know what to look for to find a “Good” travel agent out of all of your choices? Here are a few guidelines for choosing your travel agent: 1) Look for an ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) connection and go with an ASTA agency. ASTA has a code of conduct, a Consumer Affairs Department where you can register complaints against members, and a reputation to uphold. You can search for ASTA-affiliated agents on the organization’s consumer site, TravelSense.org. 2) Does the agent tell you everything you need to know? When you don’t like a certain airline, departure times or dates, or connection, does he/she shift gears immediately to find alternatives for you, or do they try to force you into your unwanted choice? If your agent supports your desires and responds well in these situations, stick by him. 3) Do the agent’s fares and itineraries stack up well against the online booking services? A quality travel professional should be able to find similar (or better) prices and schedules for you. 4) Does the agent take the time to really get to know YOU and learn your hopes, dreams and desires for your trip? A quality professional will want to learn who you are so that their suggestions will best match what you are looking for. Seek out a professional who desires to build somewhat of a relationship with you and you will be served well. 5) Does the agent answer your questions honestly and without resistance? A quality travel professional will freely discuss with you any surcharges they may apply, overrides they may obtain or Familiarization trips or other incentives which may be leading them to suggest a choice that is not good for you. A quality professional will have your best interests in mind NOT the interests of the supplier. Once you have used these steps to find a quality travel professional the question then becomes – When do you use them? One should strongly consider using a travel agent instead of doing it yourself in the following cases: –> Group trips/sales: Getting 10 or more people to a destination at an affordable price is no job for a dilettante. Call a travel professional immediately when traveling with a large group. –> Family travel: Family travel is just a smaller subset of a group trip — you want sensible flight times, the fewest connections and shortest overall travel time possible, seats together throughout, hotel rooms with enough sleeping space, a car that can accept a child’s seat, etc. A good travel agent understands all of this intuitively, and can save you the headaches of sorting through all of this yourself. –> When looking for a package deal: There are so many package deals out there, at hotels you’ve never heard of, with itineraries so vague you’re not sure what country you’re visiting, that you may need some assistance. –> When you fly frequently: When you fly frequently, and especially when it’s SEM (Someone Else’s Money), having a good travel agent can be essential. No hours on hold, no endless Web surfing, no hassles; just a quick phone call, and your e-tickets arrive in your inbox. –> When traveling to an exotic locale or new “resort” area. –> When you don’t have time: You might save a few dollars in fees, while you lose two hours in research. What is your time worth? Travel agents earn their keep by doing work you don’t have time to do. –> If you have a particularly sticky or difficult itinerary In a similar way there are times that self booking can be advised. These include: –> If you’re booking your routine flight, you can probably do it yourself online –> Your looking for the little Mom and Pop cabin that you can get by calling the local bait shop or a tent site or KOA cabin When you have found a great travel agent throw them all your business. You won’t do better anywhere else. He or she can see everything the booking engines can see, and sometimes more. They will make a living, you’ll become a preferred customer and the world will be a better place – Well, maybe not, but we can always try! At least when you “see” the world you will have a better experience!