Travel Agents for Do-it-Yourselfers

When you live an unconventional life you realize quickly that the world isn’t designed to meet your specific needs. From the silly (30 day limits on credit card travel notifications) to the serious (difficulty obtaining health insurance without a fixed address), a range of inconveniences go hand-in-hand with going your own way. Even internet travel resources, as great and as liberating as they are, are built to answer questions different from the ones we need answered.

Sites like Expedia and others are great for pricing airfare on a specific itinerary. If you know the where and the when of your travel, the internet is awesome at aggregating flight options. But what if where and when are secondary considerations to price? The internet is less helpful in answering the question we’re currently asking: what is the best travel deal for a winter flight to a warm weather destination anywhere in the world from any southwestern U.S. city?

Kayak.com comes closest with its awesome Explore feature. Tellingly, Explore is burried deep within the site and isn’t something most folks will ever see unless they know were to look – a common occurence for those of us trying to answer infrequently asked questions. (You can find Explore under the “More” tab on the Kayak.com main page. Or follow the link above.)

 At first glance, Explore offers everything we’re looking for. Flight information by season, filtered by climate, with prices displayed on a map of the world. Where Explore lets us down is with its inability to handle complex itineraries or even one way flights. Piecing together a multi-stop, multi-month excursion still requires hours of hunting and pecking on the web.

Even in the age of Watson, complex questions are still often better answered by a real human being. Someone who has access to promotional deals and who understands that long layovers in interesting places are not necessarily a bad thing, might offer value far above what travel websites provide.

And those sites may not even generate the best deals. Recently Frugal Traveler compared prices of travel itineraries generated by an agent with those that he produced himself using internet tools. In nearly every case, the agent had lower prices. Sometimes dramatically lower.

The trick to Frugal Traveler’s success is that he sought out niche travel agents serving specific immigrant communities. An agent who spends their days planning flights to China is almost certainly going to know tips and tricks that we may never learn on our own. They may also get volume discounts not available to the general public.

Along with lower prices, Frugal Traveler also got actual service, including visa information, itinerary suggestions, and alternative routes. While we DIY travelers are accustomed to figuring this stuff out on our own, we could save many hours by outsourcing it to someone else.

Serious travelers have long known that the best information comes from real people on the ground. Maybe its time to extend this wisdom to include niche agents as well.

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9 Comments on “Travel Agents for Do-it-Yourselfers”

  1. Brian May 11, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    Comment received from Betty at Heifer12x12 via e-mail (Thanks Betty!)

    “Kayak’s prices for my latest trip from Atlanta to Romania were insane … twice that of Expedia. Orbitz totally hacked me off by offering prices online that once you tried to book the trip, it doubled in price (and when you’re piecing together five or six legs, it’s REALLY annoying to finally get a schedule that works and be thwarted.) I think that using an agent is probably the best idea when you’ve got multiple things going on. I just cannily booked my ticket to Romania for the wrong day (it was 11:30 at night, I was simultaneously planning my family reunion sleeping arrangements for my 7 brothers and sisters, and drinking wine — a deadly combo) , then scheduled myself with 30 minutes to change planes in Vienna. Hmmmm … not so smart. I really SHOULD have used an agent! Good column and nice to know it’s not a matter of choosing the most expensive route — something I’m always so nervous about because my travel costs are being paid by Heifer, and I literally feel as if I’m taking bread out of a needy child’s mouth! “

    Like

  2. Marcia Clarke May 14, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

    It pays to compare, DIY does not always work. Good info, thanks!

    Like

    • Brian May 14, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

      It sure does. One of the things we all forget is that our time isn’t free, and the internet can be a huge time sink. If someone can save me hours of time and get me better results to boot, then that is just a huge home run.

      Like

  3. daydreamcatcher May 17, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    Reblogged this on daydreamcatcher and commented:
    These are great tips for travel. Really great to know, Thanks!

    Like

  4. jumelle June 13, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    I totally agree with this. Some of my friends have been like “how the hell are you affording to travel Europe for six weeks?!” and whilst I have two jobs in which I’ve been saving next to all my wages from since October, the biggest way of saving money I’ve found is to use google and book it all yourself. I went into the best travel agents here in the UK and they offered me varying prices of around £2000, however I ended up spending the following:
    – just over £350 for my railpass on interrail.com
    – about £400 in accommodation at cheap hostels found on hostelworld.com
    – leaving me with savings of about £1000 to spend.

    This is doing it myself, seeing as the companies were saying it would cost about £2000 just for the above two, when travel + accommodation only came to about £800. Crazy.

    Love your blog by the way, thanks for all the tips!!

    Like

  5. Denny September 20, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

    Thanks for stopping by my blog because otherwise I would never have found you. Your advice resonates, and I look forward to reading more tips.

    Like

  6. katafrass May 28, 2013 at 2:21 am #

    skyscanner is also a great resource for flights…you can put in the from (say, RDU) and then type “Everywhere” into the to box (or vice versa) and get lowest prices (though they don’t really show Everywhere lol). You can also use it search flight prices for a certain route for a whole month or even a whole year, though I’ve had various levels of success with that feature. Anyway, just thought I’d let yall know cause it sounds like something you might use! 🙂

    Like

    • Brian May 28, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

      Had never heard of skyscanner before, so thanks for the tip. Will definitely give it a whirl next time we’re in the market for some flights.

      Like

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