A lot of people think that travel agents have been put out of business because of the do-it-yourself options on the Internet. But travel agents still are very much around—and a good one can help you plan a better trip than you could on your own and save you money. Here are the traits of a good travel agent and how to find one…

They make it their business to really get to know you. They will know, for example, that you want to eventually visit Greece or go on safari. They’ll keep their eyes open for you, sending e-mails to alert you to great deals they hear about. Some even will create long-range plans with you.

They travel a lot. Good travel agents personally test-drive experiences as much as possible, so they know which you are likely to enjoy the most, whether it’s doing a Vespa foodie tour in Ho Chi Minh City or a museum tour in Italy. Good agents have stayed at the hotels they recommend, and their clients may get perks such as free room upgrades. Obviously, not every agent has gone everywhere. But good ones have networks that cover the globe. Their recommendations can make or break your trips.

They are available around the clock. You’ve just arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, and your hotel can’t find a record of your reservation. The best travel agents pride themselves on being personally reachable 24/7 or having a good backup person who is. Good luck getting that kind of assistance from Hotels.com!

They recognize real deals. The Internet is very good at convincing you that you’ve found a deal when that isn’t necessarily true. Travel agents have an understanding of what exactly is a deal and just how limited inventory might be. They can save you from making bad decisions.

To find a good travel agent: Word-of-mouth always is best—ask your friends and colleagues. Or ask for references from a local community blog or social- media site. There also are professional organizations that list agents, including the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA.org). If an agent looks promising, call him/her. Ask him how long he has been a travel professional. How often does he travel? Tell him what you’re interested in. Pay attention to his suggestions and how well he listens to you.

What will it cost? Fees range from $150 to $1,500 to design an itinerary, depending on the length and complexity of the trip. Travel agents also charge airline ticket–processing fees, which range from $35 per round-trip domestic ticket to $100 for multileg international trips. As for straightforward bookings, such as booking a hotel room, a cruise or tour package, some agents do not charge fees because they receive commissions from the companies.

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