We are thinking of going to Hawaii later in the year. Why is the quote from travel agents so much more than Expedia? What is the "catch"?
- Peter

With the amount of travel booking sites offering sweet deals, it can seem like travel agents are becoming obsolete — but that doesn't necessarily mean they have nothing to offer.

I spoke to Herald travel industry expert Grant Bradley for his thoughts: "With agents you may pay a bit more in some cases, but you get after-sales care if something goes wrong," he says.

"You're paying for the expertise. Agents don't necessarily have the same spread of suppliers either so you may miss out on some deals that certain airlines or hotels offer."

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This expertise is important to remember. With so many options, it can be quite overwhelming — especially when you're in search of a good deal. I've spent a lot of time with several different airline bookings open on my web browser, hoping to find that perfect combination of timing and price. If you consider that pre-internet, the majority of us would have booked through a travel agent, it's all still new to be organising every detail of our trips — and there's plenty of scope for things to go wrong, especially if you don't read the fine print.

If you don't know what you're going to do or where you're going to stay in a destination, a travel agent can help you plan a full itinerary. Many specialise in particular types of holidays and can hook you up with a good deal on a tour that will suit you.

For your Hawaii trip, if the ticket is all you need, I'd go ahead and grab one of those good deals online. It's also worth checking prices with the airline you'll be flying with. I prefer to book direct rather than through a third party, as the terms and conditions are usually clearer.

If any readers have experiences — good and bad — booking through third-party travel sites, I'd love to hear all about it.

Readers respond

I received several emails about Kiwi travellers getting a visa at the airport upon arrival in Vietnam, which seems to be a cheaper option than going through the embassy prior to departure. Here's a couple of responses.

"Last year when we went to Vietnam we had no problems with a visa," Alison Woodcock writes.

"We went through Go Asia Travel and had a faultless, flawless trip. They sent us the forms, we filled them in and sent them back (all by email) then we just had to wait at the counter in Saigon. It was no more than $50 each. We hope they enjoy the trip as much as we did."

Phil Gravestock writes that "paying US$16 for an online agent and US$25 on arrival would be way cheaper with a slight wait at the airport in Hanoi ... last year 20 minutes, this year an hour. I'm travelling with a family of four — they much prefer an hour at the airport to an extra cost per person to go via the embassy."

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