I’ve got a bit of a confession- I hate it when people call our small but mighty company, allé, a travel agency. It’s a bit of a senseless pet peeve, especially since I sometimes feed into it (if I’m calling an airline on behalf of a client, I always introduce myself as a travel agent to save time) and I completely understand when clients do it too; it’s easier! Everyone knows what a travel agent does, a travel planner on the other hand? Not so much. So here it is, my explanation of what a travel planner is compared to a travel agent, along with a guide of when to use the services of a travel planner vs. a travel agent, and vice versa:
The main difference: how we make money
This is the first big difference between the two, and it’s a major one. Not because money is the most important thing in life, but instead because money is a big motivator in life. It’s no secret that many of our behaviors are driven by the invisible hand of financial reward:
Travel agents make money on commissions
The traditional travel agency model comes from a world before the internet- it comes from a world where you had to stop into a travel agent’s office or call them (on your non-smart, non-cordless phone) to have them book a flight, a tour, a hotel for you using secret codes on their black and white screen. In this world, agents made money on a commission fee from each booking. Fast forward to today, this model is still going strong for travel agents around the world, though the only thing that has changed is that it’s virtually impossible to earn any money on Economy class airfare. Everything else- hotels, transfers, tours, safaris, rental cars all have some sort of option to pay travel agents a commission for booking, typically between 5 and 15%. So for the traditional travel agent, the trick of the trade is knowing where to book for the best commissions (while also keeping the customer happy). It’s a way of acting like a middleman and providing invaluable advice based off of years in the industry.
Travel planners make money on planning fees
Travel planners on the other hand make money by charging customers a planning fee, usually based on some sort of an hourly fee, or a project fee. Because of this, a travel planner’s motivation has nothing to do with the price of the trip that you book (they make the same amount of money, regardless of whether your trip costs you $13,000 or $3,000) or how and where you book your hotels, or if you prefer to skip hotels and stay in airbnbs instead. Alternatively, their focus is planning a flawless trip for you- that means coordinating all the picture-perfect details, like that one hike you’ll take to start off the day, or the tiny local restaurant you’ll have dinner at. These are the kind of things that traditional travel agents won’t touch because there’s no commission to be earned on it, but it’s the kind of thing travel planners adore and thrive on.
When to use a travel agent
If you want to go on a cruise. Cruises are a science in and of themselves, and there are agents who know ship layouts and sailing plans inside out. The whole cruising industry is also very, very travel agent reliant, with some cruises being quite difficult to book directly; so if you’re looking to go on a cruise, it would be really silly NOT to go through a travel agent, you’ll get a wealth of knowledge and experience and you’ll for sure pick the best choice for you.
If you want to stay at an all-inclusive resort. Another kind of travel that traditional travel agents specialize in is all-inclusive resorts- the kind of place you arrive at, check in at, and stay at for a week because there’s absolutely no reason to leave the premises of the resort. Here again, travel agents know which all-inclusives have the best beaches and programs, and they will provide you with really valuable insight on picking an all-inclusive resort for your needs.
When to use a travel planner
If you want a trip that is very unique. Travel planners are best used for travelers that aren’t satisfied with an off-the-shelf, cookie cutter vacation. A travel planner is best for you if you love outdoor activities, cultural activities, sightseeing and adventures of all kinds.
If you want to go where others haven’t been. It’s a huge world out there, and there is so much to do and see, way beyond what your friends and coworkers have done. Travel planners work well with people who like to go away from the crowds to discover new destinations for themselves, destinations that Travel + Leisure and guidebooks haven’t even picked up on… yet.
You don’t want to be a tourist. When you travel, you want to experience your destination like a local. You want to blend in as much as possible and see and do the things the locals are doing. Sure, not everything local is good, and your travel planner, who has immense experience with your destination, will sift through the options for you, so you pick the experiences that are the most worthwhile.
You don’t like guided group tours. You like to sightsee and wander around a city, but you don’t like being tied to a group or a group schedule. You’re in many ways the definition of a free and independent traveler, and you just need to be armed with the right information on where to go when, so that you’re not aimlessly roaming around wasting your precious vacation time.
If you love adventures. Sure, adventures mean different things to different people, but the point is, travel planners are best for people who get restless after laying on the beach for a day. If you like to go and see, do, experience for yourself, then a travel planner is the way to go for you.
You love eating OR you are a finicky eater. Food is a major part of culture and experiencing culture, and if you’re after incredible dining experiences, not limited only to restaurants (we’re talking markets, dinner with locals and more food-centric fun) a travel planner is the way to go. A travel planner is also a great idea if you have dietary restrictions that make travel a bit difficult- things like being a picky eater, or vegan or even observing certain religious diets (like observing Kosher or Halal rules, for example). Travel planners have generally worked with all sorts of diets and all sorts of peculiarities, and we are experts in finding creative solutions to every travel limitation.