As a business traveler, I have had a lot of experience hiring travel agents as the go-between in booking my flights, making last-minute changes to my itineraries, and handling inconveniences associated with lost baggage and flight delays or cancellations. As time goes by and technology gets better, I have noticed that it is often easier to go directly to the source and work with the airline instead. If travel agencies want to continue to compete successfully with airlines, they will have to do what any business selling a commodity must: provide a better offering and user experience.
Travel dates are fluid. For instance, I may know that I have a meeting at the end of the week, but I often won't know whether it will be on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. To make things more complicated, I often find that should I stay in that country for an extra half-day, I will be able to have another successful meeting based on the first, so I need to be able to change my schedule dynamically. These types of quick, last-minute changes do not sit well with travel agents. They complain that I am treating the plane like a taxi, that they need time in advance to make any changes to my itinerary, and that it will cost more money to make my changes. However, for me, it's as simple as requesting an Uber to go from place to place depending upon availability. After all, this is my work and I do not have the luxury of planning before 3 to 5 months. If I need to make a change, the cost savings are not relevant when I'm booking the flight within a few days anyway.
Airlines are competing with travel agents and other airlines for the attention of the customer. Because of this, they have spent a lot of time and money over the last few years developing their websites and apps to improve the user interface experience and offer a full array of services available right at your fingertips. Nearly everything I need to do, whether flying a day earlier or later or changing my flight plans completely, can all be done via their app. I can now make my changes dynamically and pay the difference with my credit card.
Call Center Availability
When you fly as often as I do, you're bound to run into issues. Missing luggage is perhaps the worst, but the inconvenience of flight delays or cancellations can be quite a headache as well. Even should the issue happen during my travel agent's business hours (and that's hit or miss with the time differences), there is very little that they can do to help in these situations, aside from dialing up the airline's call center on my behalf. It is much easier to call the airline help-desk myself. The call center experience has improved nearly as much as their web-based services have, and with one call, I can request changes, learn my options over the phone, and even pay them directly via credit card, saving me both time and money while resolving my problem instantly rather than having to wait on my travel agent to get back to me with an update.
There are still plenty of reasons to work with a travel agent. They can often get you much better rates and make your travel experience run more smoothly if given notice well in advance. For on-the-go business travelers, however, they have a lot of work to do to keep up with their competition, thus driving established business models to change with time. Companies must innovate to thrive, and I look forward to seeing the improvements.