In the past, travel agents were a popular choice for getting all your travel plans squared away. You could choose your destination or get suggestions for popular vacation spots and have the agent find your mode of transportation and a place for you to lay your head. They could also provide entertainment suggestions, including popular restaurants or a newly opened play to attend.
Travel agents often advertise that they can find the best deals, and this is because of their in-depth knowledge of things such as airlines rules (can you get a discount if you are a teacher or a student under a certain age?), which hotels can be flexible on rates and when they are most readily available and times of year that it might be most inexpensive if you are dead set on a certain city or hotel.
For many travelers, paying the travel agent was well worth having someone else make the phone calls, (who hasn't been put on hold indefinitely with an airline before?) and deal with the details of booking the trip. Many people still really like this option; some folks have travel agents they have used for many, many years.
Today, a growing number of people opt to merely whip out the laptop or iPad and peruse information on their chosen destination, all while enjoying an episode of Mad Men or sipping a glass of vino. They may or may not search sites like Travelocity or Priceline, in an attempt to find the lowest prices for themselves, while eliminating the middleman or woman in the form of a travel agent. Sites such as Trip Advisor offer ratings for various hotels and other rental options from people who have actually stayed there.
In the past few years, I have rented condos twice, in New York and in Washington, D.C., both after finding them on the site. It is often a more economically sound choice and offers the option of a more "home-like" atmosphere. You can save a lot of money making your own coffee and breakfast in the rental's kitchen each morning!
Sometimes you can get a better travel deal by bundling your transportation, be it train, plane or car, with your hotel stay. Do your due diligence on both transportation and hotel to make sure you really are saving money; don't just take the travel site's word for it.
Experts say the future of travel could easily involve more airline unbundling, which happens when airlines separate cost pieces, offering them above and beyond the basic fare. Did you know that you could pay to keep the middle seat next to you unoccupied? Airlines are desperate for your cash, with high fuel prices and the cost of everything about friendly skies becoming less and less friendly. Trust me when I say they are brainstorming about what they might be able to provide to charge you even a few dollars more per flight.
Booking travel from mobile devices is a huge trend and some companies are opting for only smart phone apps and no actual website. Hotel Tonight is such a business. Research shows travelers in emerging markets have a harder time with online booking of travel than those in more developed countries. Social media and travel go hand in hand. Potential travelers can find information and possible discounts through Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter interactions.
There will remain a role for travel agents, especially in the business arena. For large companies with many people who travel — often out of the country — travel agents can be vital in organizing visas, innoculations, etc.
No matter how you choose to book your travel, you can be sure that whether for business or pleasure there are numerous ways to find the most exotic locations, the best deals and even a great hotel at the very last minute. Booking travel has never been easier or more fun, so get out there and see the world!
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