There's more than one way to book travel plans. Your rewards card's travel portal is one option. Third-party booking sites are another. But if you want to leave all the hard work to someone else, you might consider using a travel agent instead.
Booking with a travel agent has both pros and cons. These tips can help you weigh whether an agency is your best option when trying to maximize travel rewards.
See related: Best travel credit cards
5 tips to help you decide about booking with a travel agent
- Consider what an agent can do for you
- Know what you want from accommodations
- Make sure you're getting rewarded for loyalty
- Weigh convenience against cost
- When to skip the agent and book on your own
Consider what an agent can do for you
Andrea Crome, head of marketing for SN Travel, says working with an agent versus booking on your own can yield some valuable perks.
“Travel agents are experts and know all the information, so it's far less work than doing it all yourself,” she says. That might be appealing if you need help with a more complex booking, such as group travel arrangements or planning a destination wedding.
An agent's expertise can cover not only the booking process but specific destinations as well. For example, there are agencies that only book Disney travel and others that specialize in Caribbean trip packages.
Booking through an agent can also be a time saver, since the bulk of trip planning is managed for you. And an agent can help make your trip more enjoyable overall.
“They can do amazing things for you at a hotel,” says Stephanie Turner, president and CEO of Brentwood Travel. “Often, they can get you breakfast or an upgrade or at least one of the best rooms in the category you paid for.”
Know what you want from accommodations
Nina Thomas, founder of travel site Traveling With Nina and author of “How to Be Your Own Travel Agent,” says location is an important consideration when booking lodgings with an agency.
“In my experience, travel agents typically book you with their partnering hotels and organizations, which don't include rental properties like Airbnb or HomeAway,” says Thomas.
That's something to be aware of if you want access to a full kitchen for preparing meals or you prefer to be close to touristy spots on your itinerary.
A DIY booking through a third-party travel site or your card's travel portal eliminates that headache. Just make sure you understand what qualifies as travel if you're using your rewards card to book alternate accommodations.
These rewards cards are best for maximizing points and miles earned on Airbnb and rental stays:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
- Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Visa® credit card
Make sure you're getting rewarded for loyalty
Aside from location, you also need to consider where your loyalty program rewards fit in the picture.
Katie Warner, founder of lifestyle and luxury travel collective Lucid Routes, says her company asks clients in advance about loyalty program memberships to make sure they get proper credit when earning or redeeming rewards.
The same is true for booking flights. While you should be able to give your agent your frequent flyer number to earn miles or points, make sure you understand how that corresponds to the cost of the ticket your agent is booking.
“The only time I've seen this become an issue is with certain tickets for airfare, usually one that's substantially discounted in price,” says Warner. Her company has a policy in place for those situations.
“When that is the case, we let the client know ahead of time that they may not receive the same amount of miles or points,” says Warner. “We then let them decide if they would rather save the money or pay for the more expensive ticket but get all the miles or points.”
If you're working with an independent agent, ask ahead of time how they handle that type of scenario and whether you have a say in how the booking proceeds.
See related: 7 ways to get the most from rewards credit cards
Weigh convenience against cost
Your biggest question may be, can booking with an agent save you money?
Turner says agents can help travelers get the best value for their dollars. “My best advice is to shop not just price, which is meaningless without value and all of the components that go into planning the trip.”
What you have to consider is what that value is worth to you and how much you're willing to spend. You may not pay a direct fee for your agent's services, since many agents don't charge a booking fee. But the agent has to earn money some way, and that's often in the form of commissions from partner airlines or hotels.
Even though you may not pay an upfront fee, your booking may still come at a premium if you're booking with a more expensive hotel or airline. Whether or not to use an agent can come down to being clear on what you want from your travel plans.
“If someone doesn't know where they want to go and just wants something cheap, they're better to book online as a travel agency probably wouldn't recommend something that sacrifices quality over price,” says Crome.
When to skip the agent and book on your own
Thomas says it's often simpler to plan a trip yourself if you're concerned that an agent won't be able to tailor it to fit your needs. A DIY booking could also make more sense if you're not sold on the cost of a travel package an agent is offering.
“Just because they tell you that you're getting a deal doesn't mean that you actually are,” says Thomas. “You can most likely find something better and cheaper with a simple search.”
With that in mind, here are a few savvy booking tips that can make planning your next trip smoother:
- Use airline price comparison sites such as Google Flights or CheapOair to get the lowdown on fare pricing trends.
- Check cancellation policies if you're booking nonrefundable travel through third-party sites. Booking through your card's travel portal or directly with the hotel or airline could offer more flexibility if you need to change your plans at the last-minute.
- Stack travel credit card rewards with hotel and airline loyalty rewards when earning or redeeming points and/or miles to minimize out of pocket travel costs.
- Read the fine print on earning loyalty rewards when booking with a third-party site. You may get a better room or airfare rate through the site, but you might have to sacrifice earning points through your hotel or airline's loyalty program.
- Check for card and travel site partnerships to boost rewards earnings. For example, Capital One Venture Card members earn 10 miles per dollar for booking and paying at Hotels.com/venture through January 2020.
- Calculate points or miles value when transferring credit card rewards to partner travel loyalty programs if they don't automatically transfer on a 1:1 basis.
- Check to see if your travel card offers discounts on travel or vacation packages. If you have The Platinum Card® from American Express or the American Express® Gold Card, for example, you can get access to exclusive deals through amextravel.com.
- If you have a Chase travel card, redeeming through the Ultimate Rewards portal is a simple way to get a rewards bonus.