"The Only Way To Book Travel is a Travel Agent"? – A Challenge

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free eBookYesterday, I was sending out emails to people I have communicated with previously to encourage them to sign up for my newsletter. As an incentive to join my newsletter I offer a free eBook titled “How to Save Money Booking Your Travel Online”. I was surprised when I got back this missive:

I am very curious why you would think that I would support an Ebook on how to save money when booking online. I teach and inform the Travel Community that this is a total lie. No matter how you feel you can educate the Amateur Traveler, there is no way that they can get the same results by booking Travel themselves. This business is more than the average person has any knowledge of. It takes time, and years of experiential knowledge to create a successful Journey. The Travel Industry has been affected by those individuals who have always wanted to travel themselves and so because of the Web, they found an easy way to do this. These people are now labeled Home Based Travel Agents, had their cards printed, and have spent time and money creating a Website. . These people haven’t got a clue about the Travel World. It is the people who have invested their time and cared about making peoples Travel dream come true that are the real travel agents that remain in the industry. It all looks so good and easy until something goes wrong. Remember, Agents are always there to assist when there is a problem. The computer has no heart and neither does the reservation agents that work for the airlines. Anyway, I am sorry for your lack of knowledge.

Dr. Mary Archer

Let’s ignore for a moment that:

  • I was just called a liar
  • My eBook only says that if you book travel online here are some things you should know
  • My eBook also talks about using travel agents as an option because finding deals can take a lot of work
  • My eBook specifically calls out cruises as a good time to use travel agents and Dr. Archer is a cruise specialist

Setting those aside, I think this raises a good question. This sounds like a challenge to me. I have asked Dr. Archer if she would put her money, so to speak, where her mouth is. I have challenged her to a travel deal challenge. What I propose is 6 itineraries chosen by neutral 3rd parties that include a variety of vacations and then 3 days later we see who finds the best deals. I am completely willing to believe that a travel agent can find better deals, but prove it. I will be glad to write about the results however it turns out as this seems like information that my readers would like to know.

So Dr. Archer… what do you say? Up for a challenge?

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

14 Responses to “"The Only Way To Book Travel is a Travel Agent"? – A Challenge”

Sue McCallister


What should be included in the challenge is the cost of the time. So Chris, you should log the time you take to make all the travel arrangements and then divide any cost difference by those hours. So if her arrangements cost you $500 more and you spent 5 hours, then you were working at $100 an hour…good pay, I’d say. However another challenge is to book complex travel arrangements. This is an area where I understand travel agents can be super helpful. Virtually everyone acknowledges that cruise should be booked through agents for the best deals.



Absolutely. The section in my eBook that talks about using travel agents basically says that finding deals takes time and that might be a good reason to use a travel agent. It is interesting that, as I understand it, use of travel agents nose dived when Expedia, Travelocity, etc came online but has climbed again since then as more and more booking options came online.



One point to keep in mind however is (at least for me) there is a certain amount of fun in planning and putting together a trip yourself. I’m from the school that I outsource stuff to others I don’t like doing or am terrible at. I haven’t used a travel agent in over 20 years.



I think we used a travel agent… once? That’s all that I recall.



I did hear back from Dr Archer:

“Your reply to my Email once again tells me that you have no iidea how the Travel Industry operates, but better still, how the Travel Agent earns a living by servicing her clients. We who are experienced agents receive a commission from wholesalers because we give them thousands of dollars of business as opposed to the average traveler who might travel once or twice a year. Wholesalers get the best prices because they buy in bulk, which gives them an opportunity to sell their packages at a reduced rates. Nobody with experience would call a hotel and then an airline speparately to get a special rate.. The only reason someone would want to search the web for reduced rates is because they are uneducated to this operation and feel that it will cost them more by using a Travel Agents service. Think about it. If you could have someone give you information with knowledge and wisdom of the Travel World why would you want to do it yourself. I am a professional Travel writer as well as an experienced agent and I have printed this information in many newspapers and publications. If more people would be aware of this they would absolutely call an agent and Travel stress free. Mary Archer. “




Just Wow! Dr Archer needs to get out of her travel agency more often. I’m actually offended at her uppity suggestion that all of her experience makes her skills superior, necessary or even suggest they are compulsory.

I would need a full-time agent to keep up with all of the weekend, international and spur-of-the moment trips I put myself on throughout the year. I’m willing to bet that working through an intermediary might save me some time, but would not make my travels any cheaper or more satisifying.

I’m also willing to bet Dr Archer would not have called me when I located and booked the Atlanta to Madrid $200 overall Delta mistake fare last summer either.

Part of the fun of travel is the challenge and adventure gained when you’re required to think outside the box rather than just follow the direction of somebody else. I’ll call Dr Archer next time I need a canned trip to the beach to relieve some stress but not a second sooner.

Chris, I’m willing to bet your “amateur” knowledge on the subject would match up just fine against Doctor Archer.



I would love to see a challege/comparison of travel agent rates vs. what you could find Chris. After all, you DO have lots of experience Chris! I just used a travel agent for the first time to book an international trip (to Australia,New Zealand and Fiji) that was quite complicated, with several stops, hotels, flights, buses, etc. I would like to try and investigate how much it would have cost me to do it on my own vs what I paid with the travel agent. Here are a few things I found good and bad for using the travel agent:

-I had limited time to plan my trip and although I STILL did a LOT of research on flights and places I was going, I felt that the agent saved me time of also searching for hotels, transportation and tours in several areas at once. If it had been one destination, I think I would have been fine with the planning myself.

-Since it was on overseas trip, it was nice to not have to make several international phone calls to confirm everything. I use the internet as much as anyone for booking stuff, but sometimes like to confirm by phone before flying all the way there to find out I might not have a place to stay!

-The travel agent arranged all of our bus transfers to and from the airport. I think many of these may have been complimentary anyway, but it was nice to not have to do ALL those details (we had @15-20 transfers).

-It irked me that our agent didn’t give us any breakdown of costs, just one lump sum. We knew how much the flight would have cost us, and I think I could look up each individual hotel and tour myself, but they wouldn’t provide that detailed info, so it was hard to price match. They have to make a commission too, so it’s still hard for me to believe I’m getting this great price. I think it was a fair price, but not an awesome deal or anything as they would have you believe.

-Making changes with a travel agent is a PAIN. They wanted to charge BIG fees to make changes (like $200 to change a hotel! I may as well have booked another hotel and paid for the first one anyway)! They also weren’t as responsive AFTER booking- sure when they want your business they will return phone calls, but when something needs changed, it’s much harder to get a hold of them.

-Our travel agent asked us to confirm EVERY bus transfer and tour 24 hours ahead. I would NEVER do that if I had already called and made the arragements myself- I would have gotten a confirmation number and wouldn’t have re-called everywhere. I don’t know anyone who does that. It was a big PAIN. We would get in late at a destination and the place would already be closed for the day and our tour was the next day and we were always worried they wouldn’t pick us up. I think 1 or 2 times it was good that we called- all the others would have showed up. I think it’s just to cover their own butt that they didn’t make mistakes and it really was annoying to have to do that.

-One tour was booked incorrectly and we didn’t realize until the last day. Well, we’d already paid for it and no amount of discussion to the tour company helped any. We plan to call the agent and complain, but it’s HIGHLY unlikely that we’d get any $$ back. Also, I ended up getting food poisoning one day and we luckily were able to change our tour to the following day- again, if we couldn’t, I would have been out over $200 for a prepaid tour! Of course, the advantage is that we didn’t have to worry we couldn’t get on a specific tour we wanted because it was full and we didn’t wait until we got there to try and book anything.

-Overall, I would say that it DID make sense for us to use a travel agent to book on this trip because of the good things I mentioned. If I went to these destinations again, I wouldn’t use an agent, because now I think I understand more how things work there and could do it myself. I think I would just be more aware ahead of time in the future of the bad or irritating things about using an agent if I decided I’d like to use an agent to save me time (time NOT money ;).

Whew! Got on a roll there… 😉 Hope this is helpful to some…




Whew indeed 🙂



If anyone does want to contact Dr Mary Archer to get help from a travel agent her business appears to be Archer Travel Service



Chris I think she is addressing two different issues and I not sure if she was confused by the two.

The home based travel agent, I can’t really speak on that personally. But I got the feeling that she was talking about that more in her response, as that is the more DIRECT threat to her and her fellow travel agents. But I’ve read through your book and I don’t think you even mentioned this.

And we know Mary didn’t read your book, so I think she got defensive as soon as she read your email, and just spouted off.

The other is the traveler who is booking his or her own trip/flight/hotel/car rental online themselves. The travel agent really isn’t needed there for simple tasks like this. And the reason people are flocking to it is that there is not any cost savings by using a travel agent.

Now I will say that there are times when it is probably better to use a travel agent. Large group trips, cruises, etc. In fact there was an article about it –


But to flatly say that all travel is better booked by travel agents is wrong.



I’ve had many experiences with travel agents in the past few years where they do not want my business as there isn’t enough money in it for them. Especially for cruises. Two years ago I was going to book a Med cruise and the only fares available with the cruise line’s website was for full fare. So, contacted three travel agents that I know and none of them wanted to do the booking – their reason being that Costa didn’t pay enough commission. I ended up booking online with a Hotwire home-based cruise agent who did a terrific job. Recently, booked international airfare through a travel agent and they only gave us 30 minutes between our connecting flights in San Francisco. We only made the flight as we had carry-on luggage and the gates were close to each other. The gate agent was very unhappy with us and told us that the travel agent should never have booked us on that flight with such a tight connection (actually, she said it was an illegal connection). These are just two examples of a number of experiences I’ve had with travel agents – I’ve got worse. So, although some are great travel agents, many aren’t. Just my two-cents worth!



I agree there are times we should use travel agents and there are many I know and love. However, Mary Archer perfectly summarized IMO the main negative with using travel agents in her statement:

“We who are experienced agents receive a commission from wholesalers because we give them thousands of dollars of business”.

When I plan trips to Italy for people, I first talk to them, and make suggestions for accommodation, activities etc based on what THEY would like. THEN if I happen to get commission from that accommodation or activity, great. But I don’t choose it based on my commission.

I hope she takes your challenge! Let us know if you need reader suggestions on itineraries 🙂



Her website is useless, you would think she would have some testimony from people that have used her services, perhaps her clientele are not well versed at using the web. I don’t travel as much as I would like but the last time I used a travel agent was 1993.



I would agree that her web site is… not optimal.

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