Deciding whether or not to use an online travel agent is about the same as as deciding if you should hire a travel agent, or be one!
Equally perplexing is choosing from more than 10 million results your search engine gives you, when you have little idea which online agent to choose, or what they can do for you.
You hope to find that 'needle-in-a-haystack' online booking site that has the travel resources you need and the detailed information you hope will insure your trip goes perfectly.
If you’ve used the internet during the past decade or so to book your own travel, you know that online booking agents such as Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity are the holy trinity of online booking engines.
As early adopters of the online agent phenomena, these sites led the way in the massive growth of internet travel planning, online research, and web-based travel bookings.
However, each of these huge online booking sites has previously been [or is currently] extremely cozy with one or more of the big US airlines.
There have long been accusations of company alliances and airline preferences showing a distinct bias, when travelers searched online for airline fares, travel options, and general travel information.
While most preferential listings no longer exist [or are, at least, more subtle] many travelers still feel they're up against the big guys and prefer to work in a smaller, more customer-friendly travel environment.
But, how can you know if the online travel site you use is a true and reputable organization, backed by travel professionals, who offer accurate fares, facts, and unbiased travel information?
Or...is it your neighbor down the street [or on the other side of the world] with a computer, a pre-written script, and a newly-acquired [and often questionable] travel agent certification as an online travel agent?
Due to a major shift in the travel industry over the past 12-15 years, more and more of today's travelers use online booking engines to search for, compare, and purchase, part or all of their international vacation packages.
With over 12 million Americans traveling to Europe each year, using an online travel agent to research and book travel arrangements has become the preferred - and for many European travelers the common sense – way to solidify their travel plans.
Beginning with Delta Air Lines in the mid-1990’s, most of the sales commissions previously paid to independent travel agents [store-front agents] went the way of the illusive Dodo, becoming either non-existent or almost negligible.
This is especially true for basic airline tickets and uncomplicated travel bookings, like simple round trips, car rentals, and hotel stays.
As these minimal arrangements became unprofitable for travel agents to handle, more and more European travelers became their own online travel agent, preferring and using online booking sites.
Meanwhile, the 'brick and mortar' agents were forced to impose fees to remain in business, since their business model as it then existed, had become a tsunami waiting to happen.
Travel agents, as they existed, were the middlemen. They did the work, counseled the clients, and brokered the deals.
But they were dependent on the entities on either side of them to stay afloat.
They needed customers to buy. They needed suppliers to pay. It was a win-lose-win situation. And they lost.
But after the dust settled, those independent travel agents with both a plan and a profes-sional business model, survived and are here today to help travelers with the mind-boggling array of travel choices.
The use of fees by professional travel agents has become their means to stay alive. But they've also become a major sticking point between using an online travel agent [perceived as 'free'] vs. an independent travel agent in a storefront location.
Arranging travel is a complicated business. So resulting from the changes in the travel agency business as mentioned, professional travel agents now charge appropriate fees to cover their time and services.
However, many travelers feel they can save those fees, by booking their travel plans on their own.
But, is using an online booking service the best way to insure your trip will turn out to be the great experience you hope for?
Or will it turn out to be a time of trial and tribulation that tests your will and your patience to their limits?
The answer to that question is...it all depends.
It depends on how thorough you are when you create your overseas travel plan.
It depends on the amount of research you do on your international destination.
It depends on how much checking and comparison research you do, not only on the online travel company you book with, but the international tour operator who actually provides your travel.
It depends on how much of a seasoned traveler you are. How savvy you are in the intricacies of airfares, booking fees, tour schedules, and travel jargon.
It depends on your understanding of how to combine the many parts of your vacation into a do-able European travel itinerary.
It depends on your personality - how well you handle details. If you’re not a detail person, leave the driving to someone else!
Using an online travel agent gives you the power to personalize your Europe vacation and design an overseas travel plan to fit your personal style of travel.
But often, due to cost, time, or the intricacies of what you hope to experience, it may be practical – even wise - to enlist a real life travel agent professional to guide you with their knowledge and experience to the trip of your dreams.
Using an online travel agent is a boon for seasoned travelers, who do their own travel research and are familiar with the challenges [and the frustrations] of being their own Europe travel planner.
Even if you’re new to online travel planning, if your booking needs are simple, you can use an online travel agent or travel booking service to purchase travel. [But be aware: many online booking services also charge fees.]
However, if your travel plans run to the unusual, the slightly different, or the more local and close to the ground type of experience [ie., a pre-booked walking tour of Ancient Rome, a Flamenco dinner show in Old Madrid, a combo tour with hotel, transfers, lake cruise, and city tour of Zurich] then maybe you should find an independent travel agent to help you with your plans.
The first thing you should determine is which travel agent deserves your travel business, and which can do the best job of delivering what you want for your travel plan for Europe.
So, should you use a mega online travel agent like Expedia, Orbitz, or Travel-ocity? Or take the time to find a smaller online booking service to help you plan your overseas trip?
Can you simply rely on your favorite browser or search engine to find the local Europe tours, travel packages, and 'things to do' to create your own customized trip?
Again, it all depends - on your time, your travel experience, and the priorities you've set for your trip.
Just make sure you have the information you need to make the best decision for planning your European trip.
To learn more about using travel agents to help you plan your trip to Europe, see these articles:
An Independent Travel Agent may cost you some money. But she may also save your trip. Learn when to seek the help of a professional travel agent.
Certified Travel Agents can often do the best job of helping you plan your overseas trip. But don't discount an independent travel counselor with years of
on-the-job experience - she's worth her weight in gold.
Becoming a Travel Agent is easy and cheap - so say the ads on the web. But is joining the ranks of the travel agent industry as simple as signing your name?