Reader Question: Should I Use a Travel Agent?
Hey travel-savvy friends,
My fiance and I are planning a trip to Paris and Rome in September. We are working with a travel agent and she has us at a pretty nice hotel in Paris but the hotels she suggests are always so expensive. I’m all for staying in a nice place but it’s basically a place to sleep, right? For our hotel in Rome I’ve been looking into deals on hotwire and they have, what seems like, really reasonable prices for 4-5 star (much cheaper than anything our agent has offered.) Would y’all recommend going this route or is this risky for travel abroad? And how would you go about scheduling touristy things to do while there? Our agent says it’s cheaper for us to work through the hotel but I’m not sure. Help!
Sounds like a fun trip! My general rule of thumb is that travel agents = very expensive! I’ve never used one, but, then again, we’re pretty comfortable do-it-yourselfers. If this isn’t your style, then a travel agent can be pretty valuable. So, take the following advice with that in mind…
One of the VERY best ways to save money traveling is to use either airline miles, credit card points or hotel points to subsidize at least a portion of your trip. The travel agent would never suggest this because they won’t get a percentage of the booking fee if it’s free to you.
For example, when we went to France/Italy recently, we used Delta SkyMiles to book both of the round-trip business class flights for free ($0!) and then used points to stay in a very fancy hotel in Paris for a few nights (cost to us was $0 but would have been $1000+ a night!). We stayed the other nights in just a very basic budget hotel. Again, this is not anything the travel agent would suggest.
I’m not sure if either of you have any airline/hotel miles or points, but the easiest way to earn them fast is by signing up for a credit card that is offering a bonus. For instance, before every big trip, McCown and I both try to find a credit card that is offering a 50,000 point bonus with signup. As long as you manage it properly, it won’t ding your credit and just ends up equaling free money.
If this is something you guys might be interested in, I’d be happy to point you in the right direction. Your trip is still a few months out, so you should have time to pull it off if it’s a path you’d like to pursue. You might want to read this post for more info on signing up for credit cards.
But, to more directly answer your question, Paris and Rome are perfectly safe places and, as long as you book a hotel that has some decent ratings on TripAdvisor, you’ll be fine! Again, it might even be worth spending a night or 2 in the 5 star, luxury hotel to splurge and then just find a cheap hostel (many hostels have private rooms and are a great alternative to pricey hotels) for the other nights to bring your average cost down. The hostel we’ve stayed at twice in Paris is St. Christopher’s. It is in a fun part of town and very cheap compared to regular hotels.
As far as scheduling trips/tours once you’re there, again, I’m always skeptical of the travel agents. You must remember that anything booked through a travel agent will have an added fee for them and then the hotel will also be earning a cut. Just use TripAdvisor —> Things to Do section for a given city (here’s a link to Paris’: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g187147-Activities-Paris_Ile_de_France.html ). It will be a great place to find the top-rated tours. Also, we’ve found that the most fun we have in a city is just walking around different areas.
One more thing about travel agents: they’re only going to recommend the TOP NOTCH places because their reputation is on the line. They only have things to lose by recommending the less expensive things (they lose out on commission and, if you have a less than perfect experience, their reputation takes a ding) so they’re totally incentivized to suggest you go for the priciest options—it costs them nothing and they stand to gain a lot from it.
Happy to help if you have any more questions.