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Will a Travel Agent Help Me Book an Award Ticket?

Dear Tim,

How does one get assistance using a travel planner to plan and execute a vacation based on frequent flyer miles?

Larry T.

Dear Larry,

Whether a travel agent will make your travel booking using miles and points depends on a number of factors.

If you have an ongoing relationship with an agency, its agents will probably accommodate you, albeit without any great enthusiasm.

If some of the trip components involve paid bookings—either for air, hotel, cruise, or car rental—your chances are better. That would include the upgrade scenario, where you pay for a coach ticket and use miles to upgrade to business or first class.

All things being equal, the busier travel agents are, the less likely they are to want to devote their attention to making award reservations. Travel agents’ ambivalence toward working with frequent flyer miles reflects a simple financial reality: It’s just not profitable to spend time making award bookings.

Unlike the old days, when travel agents worked on a commission basis, paid by the travel supplier, most agents now book travel on a fee basis, paid by the traveler. A typical fee for making a straightforward domestic airline reservation is $30; for international, it would be $50.

But for bookings using frequent flyer miles, agents will tack on an additional $40 or so. Why the surcharge for award reservations? Because agents know that the limited number of awards seats will translate into significantly more time and effort required to book an itinerary that meets the customer’s needs.

It’s worth mentioning that, until recently, there was a travel agency that specialized in helping frequent flyers use their miles and points for trips. But AwardPlanner stopped taking on new clients on March 15.

A final thought: travel agents and airline reservations agents share much of the same specialized knowledge and skills. If you’re thinking of using a travel agent exclusively or primarily to assist with using miles for airline flights, you might do as well by calling the airline’s reservations center. Most airlines charge a $10 fee for bookings made by phone, but that’s significantly less than a travel agent would charge for the same service—assuming you can find a travel agent to do it at all.

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