Q. In response to someone who wondered if they would be better off going to a travel agency or trying to plan their Hawaii vacation themselves, you wrote, "What I normally encourage people to do in these situations is to first get quotes from a couple of travel agents, and then check online." Please note these people not only lacked knowledge about the destination but apparently about their own tastes in terms of types of accommodations and locations.
A major part of a good travel agent's service is to crystallize the objectives of the client and then find the perfect vacation to fit their wish list. Your advice reduces travel agents to the level of a public library, which is fine if the government wants to pay us for providing this service. You would have travel agents guide clients through the maze of choices without compensation. Then, the client can dive into the internet where he may not realize his "bargain" leaves out essential parts of the package offered by the agent, such as transfers, upgrades and document or processing fees added after hitting the "submit" key online. You reduce all travel agents to unpaid trollops with your advice.
Of course, in most cases, after someone buys a trip online, travel agents still haven't heard the end of them. When something goes wrong or the traveler has a question, they dial the toll free number of a friendly travel agent to pump out more free information, adding insult to injury.
A. Thank you very much for sharing your grievances. Travel agents provide a valuable service and I encourage people to use them, especially when planning a complex trip. However, I do believe in comparison shopping if the traveler has a limited budget and the time to spend searching around.
Q. Four of us want to travel to Hawaii in March 2006. We need help with ordering airline tickets and finding accommodations in Oahu and arranging a one-way trip over to Maui. Would we be better off going to a travel agency or trying to plan this ourselves? Would we be better off renting a condo a few blocks from the beach or staying in a hotel?
A. It's hard to answer a question regarding making reservations through a travel agency versus making one yourself, because of numerous variables: date of travel, whether the travel agent has special deals with hotels and airlines, your skills at finding deals on your own, and so on. What I normally encourage people to do in these situations is to first get quotes from a couple of travel agents, and then check online to see if you can find a better deal within the same parameters of travel dates, hotels and airlines.
A handy site to find local travel agents is the American Society of Travel Agents, where you can find a list of travel planners by specifying your destination and your zip code. Another good resource is the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau's site, where you'll be able to find travel agents and tour companies that that specialize in Hawaii. But it might be easier just to use a knowledgeable travel agent, especially if this is your first trip to the islands.
A condo can be a good idea if you plan to spend at least a week there, as you'll most likely have a kitchen (so you can save money by preparing breakfast and lunch), and possibly even a washer/dryer, which means you can wash as you go and pack fewer clothes (and thus keep the gentleman in the first item, above, happier).