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When a live human trumps online travel sites

  • The rise of online booking sites dealt a near-fatal blow to travel agencies, yet professionals have been slowly regaining some momentum, particularly in the luxury sector.
  • Travel + Leisure's Jacqueline Gifford explains when the wisdom of a travel agent could be valuable.

The rise of online booking sites may have dealt a near-fatal blow to brick-and-mortar travel agencies — but don't count them out just yet.

Although bookings through websites such as Expedia and Kayak increased another 4 percent in 2016, according to the most recent data by the payment processing firm, Worldpay, real live travel professionals have been slowly regaining some momentum, particularly in the luxury sector.

While the business of booking trips through a traditional agency will likely never return to pre-internet levels, there is a growing understanding among travelers that calling an old-school agent could be worthwhile in certain cases.

Airplane landing
Toby Melville | Reuters

Travel agents are most helpful when it comes to "milestone" trips, according to Travel + Leisure's special projects editor, Jacqueline Gifford. Those are instances when you may want to leave it to a pro to handle the logistics of traveling to an exotic locale and coordinating flights, ground transportation, accommodations and dinner reservations, or even a local tour guide or translator.

Travel agents can also, for example, work their industry connections to secure an upgraded room with an ocean view or the best cabin on a cruise. They might even get you into a place that appears fully booked or lobby on your behalf if something goes wrong.

But outsourcing the work and stress of the trip to other humans also comes at a cost. Travel pros might get paid on commission by hotels and resorts but could also charge a flat fee for putting the whole package together — an expense, however, that could end up paying for itself if it's a truly memorable — and hassle-free — vacation.

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