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Travel agents in Ontario, Canada?

Hi everyone!

I plan to join a Rick Steves in summer 2022 with my kids. I live in the Toronto area.

  1. Would you recommend a travel agent?
  2. Comments on pros/cons/insights on working with a travel agent are welcome, I am new to it.

Thank you kindly,
Leyden

Posted by
13490 posts

Welcome to the forum, Leyden -
How exciting for you to be booking your first RS tour! If you plan to go this summer, you'll likely want to jump on your booking ASAP as many tours are filling, or are even already filled, for summer high season.

No need for a travel agent, really, as once you're on your tour, your hotels, transport, etc. are handled for you, and you'll book that tour through RS. What you will need to manage on your own are your flights to/from Europe, free time sightseeing, executing necessary COVID requirements for the county(s) you'll be traveling, and any accommodation/local transport arrangements needed for travel prior to or after your trip. To date, we've booked our own hotels and flights as it's really not much different than doing it for domestic travel, and pre-booking quite a lot of sightseeing venues, such as museums, archeological sites, etc, can be accomplished from home too.

Almost everyone who has taken as RS tour recommends coming in at least a day before the tour begins to rest up from jet lag. That's also recommended for tours that start or end in major sightseeing cities that need more time than a tour can provide. Which tour is it that you're looking at?

Anyway, with RS travel guides for the cities/countries you'll be visiting and the forums - you'll find lots and LOTS of very nice, very experienced travelers able to help you here! - you can pretty much DIY. Additionally, you have the consulting staff at the RS Mothership to connect with for additional guidance; info here:

https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-help/plan-your-trip-with-our-expert-consultants

Busy working folks sometimes appreciate the help of a good agent to book their flights and such but as far as a total trip plan, be aware that the majority of "agents" have never set foot in the places someone may be using them to advise for. We have a very good agency here where I live (Minneapolis area) with a stable of agents who are required by the ownership to travel to their assigned countries but I think that's rare, and definitely not needed if you're booking an RS tour.

Editing to add: the more you can tell us about you and your family (ages, interests, etc.) the better people can help you. :O)
You're going to have a wonderful adventure!

Posted by
5857 posts

The problem with travel agents is that they need some way to be paid for their effort. They no longer receive a cut out of the air ticket price, and only get credit for booking large chain hotels. Basically, they would have liked to sell you your tour package. You can find someone who works as a consultant, pay them by the hour so to speak, but then you need to assure they have some experience with Europe.

To that end, the Rick Steves staff is probably as good a choice as anyone else, I have not used them, but they certainly are familiar with the tour cities, how to get there, and hotels for a pre or post tour stay.

Posted by
6633 posts

A TA can only help you with the flights since they cant book RS tours for you. The one we used to work with would charge $75 USD per person just to do airline reservations. It's not more difficult to book airlines yourself for international flights than it is for domestic flights, if you've ever done that.

Posted by
3265 posts

Stan's first sentence says it all. Your Ontario TA can't sell you a RS tour. So book directly. You might find a TA willing to book your flights and pre/post hotels, but expect to pay a fee for this. However that's generally unnecessary. There are ample tips on how to do this yourself.

Posted by
3 posts

Kathy, Paul, Stan, CJean, thank you!
Your answers make sense to me and I can book flight tickets myself. :)
Follow up questions, in your experience:
1. Buy from airlines directly or from an Expedia/Kayak kind of site?
2. Buy one full round multi city package or each way in a separate package?

Have a great evening!

Posted by
3265 posts

Buy your flight tickets directly from the airline. That way if anything goes sideways you don't have to deal with a middleman. But by all means use a site like Google Flights or Kayak to see what your options are first.

I don't know what tours you're looking at, or if you will travel more before or after the tour. Of course buy a round trip ticket if you will start and end in the same city. Otherwise, we always buy a multicity ticket (into one airport and out of another, often on different partnered airlines). Usually not much more expensive than a round trip. Might be a lot cheaper than 2 one way tickets- depending on the airline.

Posted by
13490 posts

Cjean nailed it: ditto to booking directly with the airline, and to choosing multi-city arrival/departure or in-and-out of the same city according to the trip plan.

Posted by
2196 posts

They no longer receive a cut out of the air ticket price, and only get
credit for booking large chain hotels. Basically, they would have
liked to sell you your tour package. You can find someone who works as
a consultant, pay them by the hour so to speak, but then you need to
assure they have some experience with Europe.

@Paul - As a Travel Advisor, I can assure you that these are ALL misstatements.

Yes, TA's can be, and often are, paid for Air ticketing. Some agents are called AIR Agents and all they do is book Air (I've sent many clients to them who only want AIR). No doubt there's more commission on Business Class or First Class tickets. In some cases, agents are able to get AIR at a lower cost and DO charge a fee. Last week, using our connections with Delta Vacations, I saved a client $900 on TWO last-minute (4 days out) Economy Class tickets to Paris (compared to the SAME flights on www.delta.com) and I still earned a commission. WIN-WIN for everyone!

Actually, TA's do earn commissions at all levels of hotels - not just large chain hotels. Most of the pricing through agents is the same or LESS than the listed price you see online. Sometimes that's because there are contracted rates or unpublished promotions that only agents have access to. These days, more agents are able to book hotels through local a DMC or Onsite Partner at lower, contracted rates. And we're talking hotels at all levels - and not just corporate US brands. And yes, they are earning commission on these. Again, a WIN-WIN!

If you're booking an upscale hotel, no doubt book you should book through an agent so you get the FREE AMENITIES they can score for you - like not having to pay for breakfast, a F&B credit, perhaps a Spa Credit, early and late check-in, and so on. Agents belong to many consortiums that enhance their buying power, such as Virtuoso ★ Four Seasons Preferred Partner ★ Ritz-Carlton STARS ★ Dorchester Collection Diamond Club ★ Rosewood Elite ★ Belmond Bellini Club ★ Starwood Luxury Privileges ★ Peninsula Pen Club ★ Relais & Chateaux Preferred Partner ★ Sir Rocco's Knights ★ Mandarin Oriental Fan Club ★ Shangri-La Golden Circle ★ Oetker Collection Pearl Partner ★ IHG Luxury & Lifestyle ★ Hyatt Privé ★ Leading Hotels of the World, ★ B Signature Hotels, and so on...

In the last 10+ years, I think I've booked ONE TOUR PACKAGE - for a friend with a tight budget. Everything we sell is a talior-made FIT. Through our process of Discovery, we build the trip our clients want, not a pre-packaged formula.

I get it that many folks on this site don't need a TA - I respect that as I was late in life to use one myself. This is not an attempt to change anyone's mind... but if you're going bash TA's, let's at least get the facts correct!!

Posted by
13490 posts

OK, to be fair...
We did use the excellent local agency I'd mentioned some years ago for some arrangements abroad, and they were able to land us at least a couple of very upgrades that we probably couldn't have landed ourselves. Nice surprise! As we were both working some crazy hours at the time, it was well worth the fee (which wasn't outrageous by any means) to have some of the footwork handled for us. I know that they planned/organized a lot of custom trips for very busy, higher-end clients (that would NOT be us!) and found me amusing as I'd done more on my own than most the folks they worked with. HA! Anyway, I do hear you, RNR.

I think what we were getting at was that our new poster would be booking their tour through the RS office and not through an outside agency, thus they didn't need an additional agency.

Posted by
3 posts

What a healthy forum this is! I've truly enjoyed the conversation, big Thank You to all who took time to participate.

In one of Rick Steves' books he recommended booking flights via an agent, in case of changes he would just call his agent and adjust his trip in case of cancelled flights, strikes, etc. Current covid-19 circumstances seem to me an additional reason to enable a flexible plan for our flights.

We are looking forward the trip and RS tour next year :)

Have an excellent day,
Leyden

Posted by
5857 posts

RnR

I did not mean to imply that what I said applies to all in the travel industry, but I can speak to the choices near me, in the US, and what I said still applies. I agree, if you can find a specialist for travel in Europe for example, they can be a great help, but expect to pay more as a fee.

My experiences with local places, before I gave up on them, was that to simply show up to get tickets, cost a fee. Rarely were they able to get something cheaper than I could by booking direct, but yes, they were more adept at finding a cheap ticket, knew when to fly and what to avoid, but since, I have developed some of that as well. The hotel choices they offered were not the small BnB places I have stayed, the mom and pop hotels, or even the privately owned larger hotels in a city, but something large chain or small, or attached to a larger partnership network.

For business travel I was required to work with a TA, and the convenience if something went haywire on the road was great, they could rebook my air tickets, change hotels, and fix my rental car mix-up, all while I was in the comfort of a bar, but I also had access to a 24 hour help line of a major travel agency, not relying on business hours of a small agency or a person. I will say, aside from some corporate negotiated discounts, I could usually go directly to the airline or hotel and find the exact same deal on my own, once I knew where to look. I concede they "knew where to look", but the deal was available to me, not secret to just the TA.

They could help though with an all-inclusive hotel or resort hotel, a cruise...in fact one places specializes just in cruises, as well as Delta Vacations, which I am familiar with, and would consider a package tour deal (we may differ on the definition of "package", it has a more negative connotation in Europe I suppose), but a simple Air ticket and hotel together are a "package" if one price is dependent on the other or sold as a single price. They could also sell a "Europe in two weeks" package tour, but only those they had some arrangement with, or acted as agent for..so not Rick Steves since they sell direct.

I guess in the end, as an independent traveler, going on the frugal end of the travel spectrum, leaving some flexibility (leaving Tuesday for a couple weeks of beer drinking, actually, have the first four nights planned and booked, but only a rough itinerary that is changing as we speak), I just have not found the proper "Value Proposition" that would make using a TA a good choice...for me.

Posted by
2196 posts

Paul, I did not want to deviate from the intent of Leyden's original post... but your comment was a generalized - and frankly, inaccurate - statement regarding using a TA. Perhaps if you had started your original response with, "Based on MY experience with travel agents, the problem with SOME travel agents is..." Maybe the circumstances of your experience occur in your area, although I'd be surprised if all local TA's there are cut of the same ilk.

It's true, TA's don't work with ALL accommodations, but there are hundreds of thousands of properties listed n the GDS - the system most agents used to book accommodations worldwide. And yes, I do have relationships with some properties that have only 4-6 rooms! There are times when a TA can get some incredible savings - be it Air, Hotel, car rentals, a package tour, etc.

Many travel advisors do charge fees - especially if properties are not commissionable. The good ones are worth their fee. (I guess I was surprised by your initial comment: "The problem with travel agents is that they need some way to be paid for their effort." Wouldn't you want to be paid for providing a service?). And again, sometimes the fee they charge - like the last-minute trip to Paris I did recently - is far offset by the savings they find for the traveler.

Many travel advisors do work on a consultant basis. For example, high-end travel advisors often work on an annual retainer - their services are that valued. I have a few friends who do this and their depth of knowledge, connections, networking, and client base is simply amazing. Like many professions these days, many TA's are quite specialized. Some may handle only a Business, Leisure, Meeting, Incentive, Air, Hotel, or Cruise travel experience.

Many people may see a travel agent as a person sitting in a cubicle who has never been outside their hometown. Many OTAs - especially with the post-Covid increase in travel - face this predicament. Yet, as a TRAVEL ADVISOR, we do - often at our own expense - travel to inspect properties, tours, activities, etc. In my company, although I am an independent affiliate, we are interconnected with 150+ travel advisors and talk/message DAILY about a property, a tour experience, and so on. And we're networked with DMCs and onsites all around the world. I'm often on the phone/email/WhatsApp/Slack with Vietnam, Italy, Thailand, and the USA, discussing the best options for my clients.

Although I work independently, I am on-call 24/7 - so my clients do get that "24- hour helpline" service. Because I've lived in and traveled to a few places, I've actually WALKED people back to their hotel when they got lost and called me, from say, the middle of Rome. I live in Europe and all my clients are Americans. For those living on the West Coast, that's a 9-hour time difference. I have four clients who live in Hawaii (that's 12 hours!). We have people traveling from China to Florida... so yes, we're ALWAYS on call.

It's obvious that you don't value what a travel advisor could provide you - and that's okay. TA's aren't for everyone - or EVERY trip. But to paint all TA's with such a broad brush is inappropriate. There are so many factors in today's world to consider when deciding whether to use a TA (and COVID has certainly become one of them). For an inexperienced traveler, the challenge of booking a trip may be overwhelming. The right TA could be a huge asset and sometimes it's good to have support.

Because I live in Europe, I get many "first-time-to-Europe" travelers. Thus, almost daily, I am reminded of how challenging international travel may be for some folks. Online forums, the internet, the library, or talking to friends can all be helpful. But sometimes, some folks just need more and that ENABLES them to travel that first time. A good TA can fill that need. And there are many GREAT TA's out there - you just have to go find one!!!

Posted by
13490 posts

Yet, as a TRAVEL ADVISOR...

Ah, OK. Therein might lie the difference? I would call the office I worked with here as travel ADVISORS versus agency. Nearly 45 years in the industry, the owner has property in Austria, and has personally led tours abroad so has high expectations of the staff. Sounds more similar, maybe, to your world, Ron?

Posted by
43 posts

@Kathy, would you mind sharing your travel agent’s details? I’m also in the Twin Cities and haven’t had good luck so far finding knowledgeable help for Europe. Thank you!