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The Ultimate Guide to Finding and Hiring a Great Travel Agent for Your Next Vacation

Mar 2, 2024 | Resources

Dive into the extraordinary world of travel expertise with us, where travel agents, advisors, experts, and luxury travel designers represent facets of a dramatically evolved role.


These professionals are not just about making bookings or writing airline tickets; they’re architects of personalized experiences, curators of exclusive adventures, and navigators through the intricate maze of travel planning. Whether you’re seeking hidden gems or unparalleled luxury, travel agents are your gateway to a world of unforgettable journeys, blending their unique skills to craft the trip of your dreams.

This guide will show you how to find and hire a great travel agent for your next vacation.

Travelers should recognize the distinctions between the travel professional roles and the increasing expertise of each designation. As travel advisors and designers invest more in expanding their knowledge and skills, their fees may reflect the value of their specialized services and exceptional experiences. Despite the differences in titles, these professionals aim to exceed client expectations by creating seamless and fulfilling travel experiences.

  • Facilitates bookings and manages logistics based on client preferences.
  • Coordinates travel arrangements efficiently once destination and itinerary are provided.
  • Traditionally, it is a transactional role as an order taker or a call center employee.
  • Offers deeper insight and personalized service.
  • Provides tailored recommendations and expert insights to enhance the travel experience.
  • Offers guidance and support throughout the planning process beyond essential bookings.
  • Elevates the planning experience by curating intricate, tailored itineraries.
  • Possesses exceptional expertise and creativity.
  • Crafts travel experiences that exceed expectations and leave a lasting impression.

Whether you hire a travel agent, travel advisor, or travel designer, understand that they are all indispensable when planning amazing vacations. They serve as the bridge between clients and travel suppliers, orchestrating fulfilling travel experiences for all parties involved. However, it’s crucial to discern the best fit for your needs and remain vigilant against unscrupulous practices in the industry.

For simplicity, this article will refer to all travel professionals as “travel agents.”



Do travel agents still exist? And how do I find a great travel agent for my trip?

Yes, travel agents still play a vital role in today’s travel industry. There were more than 53,000 travel agents in the United States in 2022.   Despite the rise of online booking platforms, many travelers rely on the personalized service and deep expertise that travel agents offer.

These professionals provide tailored travel experiences, access to exclusive benefits, and invaluable assistance with complex travel arrangements that online services often can’t match. Especially for customized trips, luxury vacations, or when navigating travel during uncertain times, the insight and support of a skilled travel agent can significantly enhance the travel experience. Their knowledge of destinations, ability to handle unforeseen travel issues, and connections within the travel industry make them an indispensable resource for many travelers.

Understanding the Value of A Travel Agent:

As you plan your dream vacation, it’s natural to wonder whether enlisting the services of a travel agent will come at an additional cost. While working with a travel agent may incur fees, the value they provide far outweighs the investment. Here’s why:

  • A reputable travel agent invests significant time and effort into crafting your itinerary, leveraging their expertise and industry connections to ensure every aspect of your trip meets or exceeds your expectations. From researching destinations to coordinating logistics, their meticulous attention to detail streamlines the planning process, saving time and stress.
  • Throughout your journey, a dedicated travel agent remains accessible to address any concerns or unforeseen circumstances, providing invaluable peace of mind and assistance whenever needed.
  • When evaluating the cost of working with a travel agent, it’s essential to consider the depth of their knowledge and experience. Beyond mere logistical arrangements, a seasoned agent brings decades of insight and firsthand experience, enriching your travel experience with insider tips, personalized recommendations, and unparalleled expertise.
  • While navigating the planning process independently may be tempting, a seasoned travel agent’s wealth of knowledge cannot be replicated through online research alone. Their ability to anticipate and address potential challenges ensures a seamless and enriching travel experience transcending the ordinary.

Travel agents typically earn compensation through various means, including vendor commissions and planning fees. While specifics may vary, a transparent agent will disclose their payment structure and ensure alignment with your preferences.
By understanding how your agent is compensated, you gain clarity and confidence in the value exchange inherent in the relationship.

Diagram from Sphera Travel showing their design package suite

While partnering with a travel agent may involve additional costs, their unparalleled expertise, personalized service, and peace of mind justify the investment.

Before contacting a travel agent, you should know these things about your trip.

When looking for a travel agent, the first step is to look at what you want from your vacation. Knowing your likes and dislikes is essential before you start chatting with an agent. Remember, this trip is about making your dream getaway come to life!

Where do you envision your ideal getaway? Whether it’s the sun-kissed beaches of Mexico or the enchanting castles of Germany, clarity on your desired destination is paramount. 

Before contacting a travel agent, it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of your budgetary constraints. Distinguish between budget-friendly and luxury options to grasp what you will invest in your trip. Being realistic about your budget is essential to ensure that your vacation brings joy rather than financial stress. A reputable travel agent will work within your budgetary limits or transparently suggest modifications if your preferred destination exceeds your financial scope.  Please keep in mind that not all travel agents work with all budgets.  

Understanding the purpose of your trip is fundamental before engaging with a travel agent. Whether you’re seeking a relaxing beach vacation, an adventurous trek, a cultural immersion, or attending a specific event, knowing what you want to achieve helps tailor the experience to your expectations.

Your travel style also plays a significant role. Do you prefer luxury accommodations and fine dining, or are you more of a budget traveler interested in hostels and street food? Are you inclined towards structured itineraries or spontaneous exploration? Communicating your style will enable the agent to match your preferences with suitable accommodations, activities, and transportation.

Special needs require careful consideration as well. This encompasses any dietary restrictions, mobility issues, or health-related accommodations you may need during your trip. 

By clearly communicating these things to a travel agent, you effectively assess their ability to manage your travel needs. This interaction not only aids in personalizing your journey but also tests the agent’s expertise and commitment. 

A skilled agent will demonstrate their understanding and capability to plan your trip meticulously. 

Qualities of a Great Travel Agent

  • Expert Knowledge: Deep understanding of travel logistics, destinations, and local customs.
  • Detail-Oriented: Caters to your preferences and special needs, ensuring a personalized trip.
  • Clear Communication: Keeps you informed and readily answers questions throughout the planning process.
  • Problem Solver: Quickly addresses any travel issues, providing peace of mind.
  • Personalized Service: Offers tailored itineraries based on your unique interests and travel style.
  • Transparent and Trustworthy: Provides clear information about costs, fees, and booking conditions upfront, ensuring no hidden surprises.
  • Well-Connected: Leverages industry relationships to secure exclusive deals and perks.
  • Passionate about Travel: Shares genuine enthusiasm and insights, enhancing travel planning.
  • Flexible and Adaptable: Accommodates changes smoothly and stays updated with industry trends.
  • Post-Trip Follow-Up: Seeks feedback to improve future services, showing a commitment to your satisfaction.

Additionally, a great travel agent will be upfront about the planning and fee process from the start, offering a clear “work with us” guide to outline how they operate, what you can expect, and how fees are structured. This transparency ensures you’re well-informed and comfortable throughout your collaboration.

Sphera Travel image showing the cover of our work with us guide.

You can use Sphera Travel’s “Work With Us Guide” as a reference.

How to Find a Great Travel Agent

As you seek the perfect travel agent for your dream vacation, diligent research becomes your compass, guiding you toward trustworthy professionals while avoiding potential pitfalls. 

Word-of-mouth referrals from friends or relatives can serve as invaluable endorsements. Inquire about their experiences with travel agents and whether they were satisfied with the service provided. 

Search Google using specific keywords related to your travel needs, such as “luxury travel agent for River Cruising”, “best adventure travel agent“, “travel agent Grand Rapids, MI” or “luxury travel designer for empty nesters.” This can help narrow your search to agents specializing in the travel experience you’re looking for.

Graphic Showing a google search looking for luxury travel designer for empty nesters

Pinterest is an excellent platform for finding travel inspiration and seeing the types of trips travel agents have planned. Use keywords related to your desired travel experience, and look for boards or pins from travel agents.

A reputable travel agent will proudly display their certifications on their website. Look for accreditations from recognized bodies such as the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) or the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). Membership in such organizations signifies adherence to stringent standards of professionalism and ethics.

Explore online reviews on websites like Google, social media, and the Better Business Bureau. Notice any consistent patterns and evaluate the general tone of previous clients’ feedback. Consistent positive reviews strengthen the agent’s reliability, whereas many negative reviews should prompt caution. Additionally, observing how the travel agency responds to criticism is wise. Do they offer explanations or solutions to the issues raised?

Investigate if the travel agent is connected with a reputable travel consortia, such as Signature Travel Network or Virtuoso. A travel consortia is an alliance of travel professionals that provides its members with enhanced buying power, access to exclusive perks, resources, and valuable industry insights. Being part of such a network significantly boosts an agent’s capacity to design unparalleled travel experiences for their clients, thanks to the collective knowledge and advantages these consortia offer.

Look for travel expos, trade shows, and industry networking events in your area or nationally. These gatherings are excellent opportunities to meet travel agents and industry professionals face-to-face. Bridal Shows and Women’s Expos are fantastic events with travel agents present.

LinkedIn offers a unique avenue to find the perfect travel agent, showcasing their professional background, client testimonials, and industry engagement through profiles and content sharing. Recommendations and skills endorsements on their profiles testify to their expertise and service quality. Utilizing LinkedIn’s networking features and direct messaging, you can easily connect with agents, assess their fit for your travel needs, and initiate a conversation.

As you navigate this research process, remain vigilant for red flags and exercise discernment in evaluating potential travel agents. While certifications and affiliations provide a degree of assurance, the real litmus test lies in the testimonials and experiences of past clients. 



Choosing a Great Travel Agent

When choosing a travel agent to entrust with your vacation plans, the options can seem overwhelming, especially if you lack personal recommendations. A Google search for travel agents will likely yield numerous results, but how do you determine which fits you best? Here are some key factors to consider as you embark on your search, but remember to conduct thorough research before making a decision:

Does the agent specialize in your desired destination or type of vacation? Expertise in a particular area often comes at a price, but it can be worth it for the tailored experience you receive. For example, an agent who excels in planning Disney vacations may not be as well-versed in organizing European river cruises. Consider whether the agent’s expertise aligns with your travel interests and preferences.

Look closely at the agent’s website to gauge their suitability for your needs. Does their website showcase the type of vacation you’re interested in? Are they catering to a specific clientele or niche market? For instance, if you’re seeking a luxury small-group vacation tailored for empty nesters, you’ll want to ensure that the agent’s offerings align with your preferences. Pay attention to any testimonials or reviews on their website to gauge customer satisfaction and overall reputation.

Hang out on their email list for a bit.  You’ll receive regular emails that give you a peak into their travel knowledge and expertise.

Selecting the right travel agent can be streamlined by following them on social media and joining any Facebook groups they may have. This approach offers a window into their offerings, travel insights, and personal style. Engaging with their content allows you to assess how well they align with your travel preferences and expectations, providing a deeper understanding of their expertise and personality before choosing.

Join our Facebook Group: Travel Empty Nesters by Sue: Luxury River Cruising Group

As a consumer, it’s crucial to vet potential travel agents to confirm they meet your travel needs and expectations. A reputable agent welcomes and encourages questions, responding transparently to all inquiries. Most agents offer a complimentary initial call, the perfect opportunity to interview your potential agent. During this conversation, you can gauge their expertise, willingness to accommodate your preferences and responsiveness. A less reputable agent may shy away from detailed scrutiny or be hesitant to fully engage in this process, signaling a potential mismatch for your travel planning needs.



When interviewing potential travel agents, consider asking questions such as:

  • How long have you been in the industry?
  • What training and certifications do you possess?
  • Do you specialize in a particular destination or travel niche?
  • Have you traveled to my preferred destination?
  • What are the steps to working with you?
  • What is the best method for communication?
  • Are you available to me while I am traveling?

Remember, comparing travel agents against each other by leveraging their services is inappropriate. Take the time to research, subscribe to their newsletters, and have conversations with a few before making your choice.

By remaining vigilant and discerning throughout the interview process, you can identify and avoid potential pitfalls, ensuring that you entrust your travel plans to a reputable and competent professional.

Not all travel agents are the same.

At Sphera Travel, we receive numerous inquiries from travelers seeking guidance in choosing the right agent. 

We may not be the ideal travel agent for everyone. Our approach isn’t about fitting everyone into a single mold; instead, we celebrate the diversity within the travel industry, emphasizing a sense of community over competition. Therefore, if we sense that our services align differently with your needs, we’re more than willing to recommend other trusted travel agents. Ultimately, the choice is yours to find a travel agent who truly matches your travel aspirations.

Sphera Travel’s Specialties

We specialize in creating luxurious, small-group vacations perfect for empty nesters looking for that personalized touch. Our passion is bringing people together to explore and enjoy the world in comfort and style, whether for a milestone celebration or a multi-generational family trip. We know the ins and outs of luxury travel, from cruising the seas with Silversea or the rivers with Amawaterways and Uniworld to exploring the lands with top-notch providers like Abercrombie and Kent or Tauck.  We aim to make your travel dreams a reality, wrapped in luxury comfort and the warmth of our expert planning. Check out our luxury group travel inspiration.

Many travel agents focus on particular destinations or budget ranges, mirroring the variety in retail, where stores cater to every budget and taste. Like Target differs from Bloomingdale’s in offerings and clientele, travel agents vary significantly in their services and specialties.

We advise travelers to invest time in finding an agent whose expertise and approach match their travel goals and preferences.

What to expect during an initial consultation.

Sphera Travel's tips for your initial call when finding a travel agent.

What to expect from the travel agent:

It’s essential to have a clear understanding of what constitutes exemplary service. Here are some key expectations to consider when evaluating potential agents:

  • Destination Knowledge: A competent travel agent should demonstrate comprehensive knowledge about your desired destination. While firsthand experience is valuable, it’s unrealistic to expect agents to have visited every locale they recommend. Instead, reputable agents leverage personal experience, industry resources, and partnerships with destination specialists to provide informed recommendations.
  • First-Hand Experience: Ideally, your travel agent should possess first-hand experience of the destinations they recommend. Personal familiarity with the locale allows them to offer invaluable insights, insider tips, and genuine recommendations based on their experiences.
  • Client-Centric Approach: A hallmark of a stellar travel agent is their commitment to understanding your interests, preferences, and travel style. They should actively engage in dialogue, asking probing questions to ascertain your unique requirements and tailor their recommendations accordingly.

Our best advice is to trust your gut!  If you are on the phone with a travel advisor and you feel they have the expertise for the trip you would like to plan if they answer your questions and make you feel comfortable and excited about your trip – they are most likely the person for you!

Communication is Key: Setting Expectations with Your Travel Agent

Effective communication is the cornerstone of a successful partnership between you and your chosen travel agent in travel planning. Contrary to popular belief, travel agents are not mind readers; they rely on your input to tailor the perfect itinerary that aligns with your desires and preferences. Here’s why being upfront and transparent is paramount:

  • Clearly articulate your travel aspirations, including your desired destination, budgetary constraints, must-see attractions, and any deal-breakers. Providing these details empowers the agent to curate an experience tailored to your preferences.

For example, if your heart is set on a sun-soaked, all-inclusive getaway in Riviera Maya, Mexico, it’s essential to convey your expectations. With over 1200 accommodations, your input ensures the selection of a resort that perfectly suits your needs and preferences.

  • Recognize that the relationship between you and your travel agent is an evolving partnership that thrives on mutual understanding and trust. While immediate rapport may not always be instantaneous, consistent and open communication fosters a deeper connection over time.
  • By sharing candid feedback about your likes, dislikes, and non-negotiables, you empower the agent to refine their recommendations and tailor future experiences to align with your preferences. This collaborative approach enhances the overall quality of your vacation and strengthens the bond between you and your agent.
  • Once you’ve returned from your journey, take a moment to share your experiences with your travel agent. This feedback is invaluable to express your gratitude or concerns and help them refine their future recommendations and services for you and other travelers. It’s a great way to close the loop on your adventure and start dreaming about the next one.
  • While building a close relationship with your travel advisor is vital to crafting personalized trips, respecting their time and professional boundaries is essential. Understand their working hours and preferred communication methods. This mutual respect ensures a healthy, productive relationship, allowing them to serve you effectively without burnout or overextension.

As you collaborate with your travel agent, remember that effective communication lays the foundation for a seamless and enriching travel experience.

By articulating your desires clearly, you pave the way for unforgettable adventures that reflect your unique preferences and aspirations.

Signs and Warning Signals of a Poor Travel Agent :

  • Insistence on cash payments only.
  • Unexplained hidden fees, additional charges, and mysterious costs.
  • Failure to provide terms and conditions upfront before starting the travel planning process.
  • Difficulty in contacting them or receiving timely responses.
  • Lack of legitimate certifications or qualifications in the travel industry.
  • Agents who strongly recommend destinations or packages that don’t align with your interests without a sound reason should raise concerns. Your trip should mirror your preferences, not the agent’s motives.
  • Caution against Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) schemes where the “travel agent” focuses more on recruiting you to sell travel packages than planning your vacation. This focus on expanding their network can overshadow the quality of your travel planning.  Catchphrases often used are that you can “pay yourself to travel” or “become a travel agent with no experience” or “side hustle”.
  • While influencers may showcase appealing destinations, it’s important to scrutinize whether they possess the necessary planning expertise and knowledge to tailor a vacation that meets your needs. Instead, join an influencer on a trip planned by a travel agent.

Activate your BS detector, trust your instincts, and remain vigilant for signs of dishonesty or manipulation. It’s crucial to remember high-pressure sales tactics or offers that seem too good to be true. A reputable travel agent prioritizes transparency and integrity over deceptive practices.

Business models within the travel agency industry vary, with some agencies opting not to charge upfront service fees. However, clients need to recognize that they are paying for the expertise and time of a professional. 

Clients should exercise caution when encountering travel agents who declare that ALL agents operate without charging fees. Such assertions may create a misleading impression of a universal standard within the industry. While some agents may offer their services without upfront fees, it’s essential to acknowledge the diverse practices and business models in the travel agency landscape.

Clients should be vigilant for hidden costs or undisclosed fees that may arise during the booking process, ensuring full transparency and accountability throughout their travel planning journey.

As of 2022, 62% of travel agents charge professional fees, and 89% say charging fees has been a success for their business.

Read the article here.

Image quote from travel age west magazine showing that 62 percent of travel agents charge professional fees.

Bottom Line:

Prioritize agents who exhibit active listening, responsiveness, and a genuine commitment to meeting your needs. Look for agents who go above and beyond to accommodate your requests, offering proactive suggestions and alternative options when necessary.

While face-to-face interactions are ideal, virtual phone or video conferencing can facilitate meaningful dialogue and collaboration. 

Aligning yourself with a travel agent who embodies these qualities, you can confidently embark on your journey, knowing that your vacation experience is in a great travel agent’s capable and caring hands.



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Sue and Andy Ball of Sphera Travel in Budapest

Sue & Andy Ball

Travel Experts | Grand Rapids, MI

 

Sphera Travel is a luxury travel design company founded in 2020.  We serve Empty Nesters and Retirees from all across the USA.

 

Dive into a world of refined luxury with Sphera Travel. Our specialty? Crafting unforgettable, tailor-made vacations for empty nesters. Embark on journeys full of enriching activities, celebrated milestones, and meaningful connections. Experience the world alongside like-minded individuals, friends, or family.