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Kovar Capital: Travel agent vs booking online

Hey Taylor: I just talked to a friend who said he got a great deal through his travel agent. My first thought was, “travel agents still exist?” I guess they do, but do they actually offer better deals than what I can find online? - Brian

Hey Brian: The internet, try as it might, has not yet destroyed the travel agent industry. Online booking has, however, changed the market in many ways, and this makes it a little tricky to answer your question. Sometimes travel agents will save you money, other times they will not. Here are some general points to think about when it comes to this topic. 

Bundling. This was an early travel agent tactic that kept this profession going as more airlines and hotels moved their services online. When you book your flight, you tack on a rental car and a hotel room and get all three things at a decent rate. Naturally, you can find package deals on the internet as well, but those are often between companies that have existing partnerships. It’s easier to get discounts on rental cars and hotel rooms than it is airfare, and travel agents can occasionally swing deals without having to work through a prearranged relationship. 

Inventory. Sometimes you can’t find cheap flights because the online booking companies have already run through their inventory. In this case, you might be able to work with a travel agent who still has tickets available. More often than not, I find the best deals online—it just depends on when and where you look. Still, there are companies that swoop up tickets at the right time and then sell them for less than the going rate, but more than what was paid originally. Finding these companies can be tough, and changing any flight details with them is almost impossible. Nevertheless, when you have very specific travel needs that Kayak or Expedia aren’t meeting, it’s possible a travel agent will be able to help. 

Forthright. Booking online, when you can’t really ask questions and have to deal with lots of fine print, can end up costing a lot of extra money by way of hidden fees. It’s possible your friend “got a great deal” because he paid the same price as everyone else but avoided some of those hidden charges, or at least knew about them ahead of time. I’m not saying every travel agent is 100% honest, but you can at least ask questions and feel like you have control over the process. For some, that’s enough to feel like great savings were achieved. 

Travel agents exist! They exist because they provide a service, and some people continue to benefit from those services. If you’re planning a summer vacation, try calling a travel agent and see what works best for you.

Disclosure: Information presented is for educational purposes only and is not an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and, unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Be sure to first consult with a qualified financial adviser and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein. To submit a question to be answered in this column, please send it via email to, or via USPS to Taylor Kovar, 415 S 1st St, Suite 300, Lufkin, TX 75901.

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