Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The return of the travel agent

I'm stating the obvious when I say the internet revolutionized the travel industry. Where previously a large majority of people utilized travel agents to book air travel and hotel accommodations, the internet leveled that playing field. People could now book travel directly, much more cheaply and easily. I still remember using Easy SAABRE to look up flight information for the first time on America Online, back in 1995 (the Precambrian era of the World Wide Web).

Do-it-yourself travel booking sites blossomed in those early days, surviving and even thriving after the dot-com bust: Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity,, Expedia. There seemed to be no trip the web-savvy travel consumer couldn't plan and book herself.

But just when things seemed darkest for the lonely travel agent, fuel prices soared, taking air fares with them. The Year of the Fees began, and soon no tool in the traveler's internet toolbox could locate an affordable air fare. It was like needing to unscrew a flathead screw, and having nothing but Phillips head screwdrivers.

And who's got that flathead screwdriver? The travel agent!

I've wanted to get away for awhile now. I planned a Fourth of July dive trip to the Florida Keys. I worked out a multi-city itinerary for a fall trip to Mexico. I tried to get a last-minute flight to Charleston to hang out with one of Cassie's friends. I'm still trying to make a trip to Curacao a reality. And somehow we're going to have to get out to California for Thanksgiving.

In every case, air fares have been through the roof. As badly as I have needed a vacation, I was ready in every case to pull the trigger, if only I could find a reasonable air fare. To say what I found was unreasonable would be an understatement; the results of my air fare searches made me abandon my plans. Other people have had the same problems; family members and friends have told me of travel plans they've canceled because of out-of-control air fares.

Therefore do I predict the Return of the Travel Agent. People are still going to want to travel, but they'll keep balking at coach fares that seem more like first class fares. More and more people will turn to travel agents, who will have the inside track on cheaper fares via charters, bulk fares, group reservations and the like. Such bulk pricing will likely be the last remaining way to get a halfway reasonable air fare.

So... can anyone recommend a good travel agent?


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