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Return of the Agent

Online booking doesn't always cut it. Know when to call the pros.

With about 65 percent of all business travel reservations made online, you'd think travel agents might be going the way of the dodo bird. Not so fast. Online booking is great, but if your trip is complex, call in an expert. While travel agents now charge fees for their services (anywhere from $20 to $60), you'll find it's worth it in these cases:

  • International trips: When you're jetting off to a foreign land, a travel agent has probably already been there and knows the ropes-from whether you need a visa or just a passport, to avoiding cultural faux pas, to knowing which hotel fits your budget and location requirements.

  • Changes/cancellations: An agent's expertise and connections are also worth paying for if your plans change frequently and you want to avoid (or at least minimize) fees for cancellations or changes.

  • Incentive trips or meetings: When it's time to organize a swank trip to reward your top-performing employees or plan an annual sales meeting, a travel agent knows which destinations allow you to balance a wow factor with a price you can afford.

  • Multistop trips: Headed out on a sales junket but don't have the time to research all the flights, hotels and rental cars in the cities along the way? Give a travel agent a rough itinerary, and let him or her handle all the details. Time is better spent managing your business than surfing flight schedules.

Ask people you trust to recommend experienced agents. Look for a Certified Travel Counselor credential, which means an agent has at least five years of experience and frequent training. Also check out The American Society of Travel Agents.

Chris McGinnis is author of The Unofficial Business Travelers' Pocket Guide.

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This article was originally published in the January 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Return of the Agent.

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