For decades, travelers who wanted to get away from it all had to head to a local travel agent, either a mom-and-pop storefront in a downtown spot or a section of a major department store, to book travel. It’s just one of the many ways in which the ways travel has changed as technology evolves, shifting the way people find deals and book itineraries.
The Rise and Evolution of Travel Agencies
Travel services date back to the 1700s, though with the start of commercial aviation in the 1920s, modern travel agents began to emerge. By the latter 20th century travel agencies acted quite literally as agents, working on behalf of airlines and hotel chains to put together packages and itineraries as more destinations became reachable.
Travel agencies were a critical source for travel deals for travelers throughout the late 1900s. Travel agents sold packages that combined airfare, cruise berths, hotels, and rental cars both domestically and abroad. These packages were often bundled by providers who would offer commissions to the travel agents that booked the deals on behalf of consumers.
Travel agents do not have specific rooms or seats or cars available. In the early days they used printed materials and phone calls to secure spots. The travel agencies would know how to book itineraries, reviewing printed (or later basic computerized) schedules to create trips that would work for a traveler’s particular needs.
Travel agents were always a phone call away, giving travelers a resource if things went awry or accommodations were not what were promised. Agents would act as intermediaries to resolve issues on behalf of travelers.
Modern Travel Deals
Today travel agents still exist, but are usually not as involved to the degree as their predecessors were. Instead, modern travel agents are really online sites that allow for companies to use centralized schedules and availability guides to deliver directly to consumers. Airlines and hotel chains no longer have to pay commissions to individual agents.
These websites allow consumers to compare prices, sign up for travel deals, search and build their own itineraries and book directly online. The knowledge that had been limited to those agents and agencies helping consumers has now been distributed to everyone.
Finding travel deals today is not that hard, but takes some diligence and strategy. Getting access to those deals means taking a few steps to get ahead of the game, including:
Creating accounts with top travel deal sites like Expedia, Booking.com, Hotels.com, Travelocity and Hipmunk.
Being a member of frequent travel clubs for the airlines, hotel chains and rental car companies you prefer.
Being smart about when you book your travel (airfare deals, for example, usually come out midweek) and when you choose to travel (again, midweek is a good choice, as is traveling outside of peak seasons).
Using apps and services like Airbnb to have on-the-go access to deals.
Just as travel itself has changed (there are no longer three-course meals for everyone on most airline flights), finding travel deals has evolved too. Yet travelers should remember that access to great deals is still out there, from travel companies that want you in their seats, beds, and cars when you hit the road.