The notion of paying someone to do what you can do yourself online is daunting, and that’s why some travelers shy away from the services of travel agents. But a good agent can make up for that cost by providing the knowledge and experience you wouldn’t have access to on your own—whether an activity is as fun as it sounds, a hotel as luxurious as its photos claim, whether tour guides really know their stuff or not, how to avoid tourist traps and still see the local sights, and more.

When selecting a travel agent, look for a professional with industry certifications and a proven track record. Consider choosing an agent with a Certified Travel Associate (CTA) designation from The Travel Institute, and an agency that has been accredited by the Better Business Bureau. And if you’re thinking of booking through an unaccredited agency, don’t be afraid to ask questions—especially about how the company responds to problems and how their staffers react when they encounter issues during client trips.

How your agent gets paid is also important. Most travel agents won’t charge you a fee, as they make their money from commissions that hotels, tour operators and other providers pay them for each reservation. That’s why it’s important to ask about this upfront, before you book with them. You don’t want to discover at the last minute that your agent has been charging you all along or didn’t disclose a fee they should have.

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