Let me make it clear from the get-go that this is not an anti-travel agent tirade. I have nothing against TAs. On the contrary, I think they perform a valuable service and good ones can save travelers time, money and aggravation. So why do I never use one to book my own travel? In a word, because I’m a control freak.
I don’t use a travel agent for the same reason I am a self-agented author (which is entirely different from being an author who “doesn’t have an agent,” as I’ve heard many of my fellow scribes describe themselves). When it comes to doing research, making decisions, conducting negotiations about things that have a big impact on my life, I’m not comfortable having a middleman (or –woman) do things for me.
That said, I know I’m different. I’ve been told many times that I’m not the typical female, that I’m not the typical computer user. I know I’m also not the typical writer and I’m not the typical traveler. Going back to the publishing world for a moment, I strongly believe most authors benefit from having an agent handle business matters for them. The vast majority of writers I know don’t like dealing with business matters; they just want to write. They don’t understand the legalese of contracts and they don’t enjoy the back-and-forth of the negotiating process. They love words and hate numbers. They need someone else to represent them in those venues.
I do like doing all that. With a background in law, I love delving into all the fine print and discovering the “gotchas” and figuring out how to turn the terms to my advantage (and when I did have an agent, I was always having to point out to him those things that he’d missed or glossed over, which was the primary reason I fired him and hired myself; if I was going to do all the work anyway, why give away 15% of my income to someone else?). I like gauging just how much I can get away with asking for and calculating just how much less I’m willing to settle for and meeting the “other side” somewhere in the middle. The sense of gratification that comes with successfully negotiating a great deal just can’t be beat.
Likewise, as aggravating as it can sometimes be, I like being my own travel agent. I like searching the web for the best deals on flights and hotels and cruises. I love the thrill of finding a real bargain – a cruise ship cabin that’s bigger or better (for my purposes) at a lower price. A flight that has finally come down in price to what I want to pay. A hotel room for half what most are paying for it. An awards seat that pops up where none was before. I like doing the homework and learning the little tricks and making the contacts and connections and seeing all the elements of a trip come together like a big jig-saw puzzle that’s finally solved.
That simple parenthetical up there, “for my purposes,” is an important element here. As a DIY agent, I can be sure I really get what I want. I know myself and what I do and don’t like much better than any TA ever can. As already noted, I’m not typical. The cabin type/location or the hotel room that most people would prefer often isn’t my first choice. I’m very picky about some things and very flexible about others. My priorities change depending on when and where and why and with whom I’m traveling. I could never expect another person to be able to keep up with my little quirks and quibbles. Only a mind-reader could do that.
I also want to deal as directly as possible with the companies to which I’m giving my money. If I have a problem with a cruise line policy or an online hotel reservation gets screwed up, I want to be able to go straight to the source and work it out. I don’t want to be at the mercy of a TA’s schedule, life events or even whims. TAs have to have a life – I totally understand that – but I don’t want to miss out on getting that one scenic ocean view cabin that’s available because my TA was out to dinner or out sick or busy with another customer who spends more (even though I completely understand prioritizing based on what’s best for your own bottom line).
I have high expectations – of myself and of others who work for me. I don’t want to deal with being angry if a TA misunderstands or just has a brain fart and screws up my reservations. Have I screwed up my own a time or two? Absolutely – but then I have no one to blame but myself, and I can be completely certain that I will learn from that mistake.
I’m selfish, I guess. I want a TA who works exclusively for me, and who will drop everything to tackle my problem or request at the time I need it handled. I’m the only person who would put up with my thoroughly unreasonable criteria, so for the foreseeable future I will continue to be – in both the publishing world and the travel world – self-agented.
However, if you aren’t atypical (a.k.a. weird) like me, and you just want to take a vacation and not worry about all those details, and you’d rather not make an avocation out of it but just want a good deal without any worry or hassle, I think you should call a travel agent. Just don’t call me, because I only work for one client – and she’s all that I can handle.