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Travel agents are a font of knowledge and information and can make your trips the dream vacations you always wanted. However, you should check out an agent's credentials as you would for any contractor with whom you do business. Travel agents are the leading distributors of travel products and services. Agents book 75 percent of all air travel, 30 percent of all hotel reservations and 95 percent of all cruise reservations. This gives them an advantage in being able to scout the best deals and be aware of reputable providers.

How do you find a good travel agent?

One of the best ways to choose a travel agent is following advice from friends and relatives. Since travel choices are personal decisions that reflect individual desires and lifestyles, you will want to visit or call several agencies to find the one that best suits your needs. Consider everything from the appearance of the office to the agent's willingness to listen and answer questions. The best agents want to establish a long-term relationship with a client, not just make one sale.

Your agency should belong to the American Society of Travel Agents, Inc. (ASTA). ASTA is the largest and most influential travel trade association in the world. The association has more than 20,000 members in 140 countries. Membership includes travel agencies, airlines, hotels, railroads, cruise lines, tour operators, car rental companies and travel schools.

What special services can I expect from my travel agent?

As the industry grows more competitive, travel agencies increase the quality and services they offer. Agents can provide assistance with insurance protection, passport and visa applications, inoculation procedures and other foreign travel requirements. Many have toll-free phone numbers and offer meeting planning and incentive travel services.

Some agents store client profiles that include your frequent flyer number, airline seating preference, smoking or nonsmoking designation and other specifications, so there is no need to review your preferences for each trip.

Do travel agents require any special education?

Some travel agents are Certified Travel Counselors (CTC). This means they have completed an educational program with the Institute of Certified Travel Agents.

TIP:

A good travel agent should:

  • know the best values;
  • investigate competitors;
  • stay up to date on promotions;
  • clarify the fine print;
  • make recommendations for travel related topics, such as restaurants, shopping and what to pack;
  • offer one-stop shopping for your arrangements;
  • add special benefits;
  • leverage his role to resolve problems; and
  • be the consumer's advocate.

Must a travel agent be familiar with tour operators and other suppliers?

When booking customers, the travel agent must confirm that the supplier or package's elements are fairly represented. Travel agents also have the responsibility to investigate the financial stability and reliability of tour operators. This means that they must check out a supplier or tour operator's track record. They must also advise the traveler if a visa or inoculations are required, or of other considerations.

Is my travel agent liable if my vacation turns into a nightmare?

If your vacation is ruined due to mix-ups with your hotel or plane reservations, you may be able to bring a lawsuit against your travel agent and be compensated. Some states regard travel agents as being responsible for fulfilling certain duties. Therefore, the agent must independently check the availability and delivery of services.

Are travel agents required to have a license?

Travel agents are subject to general consumer disclosure and fraud statutes, as well as refund policies that other businesses must comply to. Only the following states have specific laws that regulate travel agents:

California*

Florida*

Hawaii*

Illinois

Iowa*

Louisiana

Massachusetts

Michigan

Nevada*

New York

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

Virginia

Washington*

*These states require registration as a seller of travel services.