This travel tip may be “too soon” for people who’ve already traveled this summer. If you were one of the millions impacted by the enumerable delays and cancellations in the airline industry, I’m sorry.

I’m going to carry on anyway, because the advice may help lower future statistics, just a hair. One of the most common, totally justified gripes among air travelers lately has been how painful it’s been to reach an airline when problems need rectifying.

So slow. So confusing. Sometimes, without any help when you finally get through. As you may have guessed from the title, there’s actually a not so hidden, but not very well understood way to remove all that drama from the travel booking experience.

That solution? It’s a bit analog, a bit of a throwback and you need some manners to seal the deal. And no, the solution isn’t begging for upgrades. It’s just using a travel agent to book your flights. Doing so can be priceless.

How Travel Agents Save The Day With Flights

Travel agents — good ones, that is — have teams behind them and supporting them. Most agents work via a bigger agency, or with support of incredibly strong networks of perks and access.

This matters, because when an airline cancels a flight leaving you scrambling, or makes a change to your itinerary, travel agents have the power to handle this for you, on your behalf.

In most cases, travel agents have an “air team”, who have relationships with airlines to process everything on your behalf. Sometimes, they can even “bend” rules.

These “air teams” don’t need to speak to the airline at all in most cases, since they can go into the backend of a booking and make permitted changes as per airline rules. If you’re already bored, here’s the message: you don’t have to deal with the drama.

The Catch: You Need An Agent Willing To Deal With You

I use a travel agent for as much of my travel as possible. It doesn’t matter that I’ve written books worth of blog posts on finding deals, or best practices for booking hotels and flights.

I use one because they bring me better benefits at select hotels than elite status would in many cases, without being loyal, and because if an airline screws up my itinerary, I don’t have to deal with it.

The catch for most people reading this, perhaps even you, is that you need an agent who is willing to deal with you, to enjoy this often priceless perk. Finding one can be easy, and it can also be hard.

Agents love a good relationship, but they also work on commission. The more you book that makes them money, the more willing they’re going to be to deal with you. If you only book the cheapest flights and never book hotels, you may have trouble on the agent front.

If you happily take some nice trips and don’t always use points for hotels, agents are going to be more plentiful. And hey agents, feel free to use the comments section to add your contact info, if you’re looking for clients.

Picking A Great Agent

Assuming you’re a decent client, you may have agents to choose from. Having an agent with access to Virtuoso privileges, as well as benefit programs with major hotel chains is a great start.

Look for agents with access to perks at hotels everywhere, that don’t require you to be a loyal guest. Having an agent with an air support desk is big too. You want someone who has a team who can make changes on the fly, to keep you moving.

It never hurts when the agent, or agency has a relationship with their partners either. If you have an air support team who is a huge client of the airline you’re flying, they’ll be able to make more “magic” happen than others.

Travel Agents: Highly Competitive Game Changers

Look, I hate waiting on hold. I hate having to plead to phone agents to make allowed changes actually be allowed. It sucks the joy out of travel. Having a travel agent and their teams take care of these things for you is a game changer.

Keep in mind: you typically pay the same price as everyone else. Commission made by agents generally comes from the hotel or airline side, not from the customer side. On flights, that’s almost always true. On hotels, it’s mostly true.

If you’re able to find an agent willing to work with you, remember that great clients get great service. Giving the agent more of your trip (rather than just flights) will help with a two way relationship. Once you’re in, you never want to go out.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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17 Comments

  1. True, true and truer…good, experienced travel agents are worth their weight in gold. The best know the rules, the tried and true ways to maneuver in the systems….the traveler is their client and their best work is done in the client’s interest with an awareness of what works and doesn’t.

    But, yeah, the online booking programs always make it look better and the prices may be slightly less…until it is time to deal with the inevitable changes and irregularities of travel. Caveat emptor…

  2. Amex Platinum Travel Service. They saved my ass when I caught Covid while traveling during the pandemic.

    1. Not for me!
      I find it they suck!
      I have tried to use my travel credit with a business trip I booked with them and they can’t even find the same flights I have in their website

      1. That’s unfortunate; I had heard they’ve gone downhill. I’ve used Platinum Travel to fix flights I booked myself directly with the airlines: it’s a card benefit. You can just call them, say what’s happening, and ask them to conference you to the airline’s travel agent line. They also know exactly what the airline is obligated to do or not do, so when AA wanted me to fly from Chicago to Texas and spend 24 hours waiting on a connection to Denver, Amex knew they were actually required to re-book me on United, even if AA didn’t want to offer that solution.

  3. Good agents won’t care if you don’t spend a lot with them. It’s also worth pointing out that good agents won’t charge you a service fee and the commission they earn is on the back of the travel provider not on your end. Good TA’s will work with you on points and miles trips for the cash portion. I think your opinion on this is good. I’d add that agents can help the most with hotels and cruise lines but are limited in what they can do on price with airlines and many times there is no commission on the air portion so keep that in mind when using a TA.

  4. Thank you so much for the tip. So simple, yet it makes so much sense. With all the direct booking improvements of the last decade, I had all practically forgotten travel agents existed. I will start looking for a good one asap.

    1. I would love to hear suggestions of good travel agents who would also be willing to use points for trips. Thanks

  5. Hi Gilbert,

    Interesting article as per usual 🙂

    I was wondering if you had a list of specific travel agents that you would recommend?

    1. I would love to hear suggestions of good travel agents who would also be willing to use points for trips. Thanks

  6. I too would love a list of top quality travel agents. Being retired, I have the time to do travel research, but when it comes to flights & hotels, ooof! TIA for whatever somebody can post.

  7. Great article – but how do you find an agent ? Please could you list a couple of agencies as I don’t even know how to start!

  8. Independent travel agents are rare as hens teeth in the UK these days. The limited options are the big travel companies and you rarely get a personal service as staff turnaround is high. I’ll be happy to hear of any independent travel agents in the UK

  9. OTA means Online Travel Agent. However these companies do NOT provide the quality of service written about above. I call out “Chase Travel” which is actually a white label for Expedia (in some cases) and their agents are poorly trained, and frankly incompetent. Every issue, every question, every request… you are put on hold while the “agent” checks with someone else. I purchased several REFUNDABLE airline tickets from Chase Travel, when my plans were uncertain. However after many tedious repeated attempts to cancel and refund, those flights are still not refunded. It takes 3 minutes to book and pay for a flight on their website. It takes several 45 minute calls to cancel (can’t be done online). And even after all that, no refund. My observation after several similar experiences this year, is that this is not a mistake. It is POLICY. They refuse to refund refundable fares. STAY AWAY from Chase Travel. Yes, the UR points are great… but only if they play fairly but clearly they do not.

      1. Yes sorry I didn’t make that clear. I was differentiating OTAs (bad) from actual trained professional travel agents (good). I provided the OTA example of “Chase Travel” to demonstrate how awful they can be.

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