Eli Orzessek answers your travel questions.

I book all my own travel online — flights, hotels, tours etc — and find it all quite easy and fun. I haven't used a travel agent in 10 years. Are there any reasons to use one?
Laura

To most internet-savvy people, travel agents probably do seem a bit obsolete. However, their expertise can be absolutely invaluable.

When it comes to shopping for travel online, we're often led by booking sites to believe we're getting the best deal possible — and that may not always be the case. Particularly when booking accommodation.

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We've all seen those warnings that pop up telling us "12 other people are looking at this room", urging you to secure your booking as quickly as possible.

But a lot of the time, it's actually better to book directly from the hotel itself by calling them up, like back in the good old days.

The main benefit of using a travel agent is their knowledge and access to deals we may not be able to see. While I was looking online into flights to Europe, I believed I'd found the cheapest deal flying through Guangzhou — which would have included a 12-hour stopover.

But when I took my research to a travel agent, they quickly found a few other options for around the same price that were far preferable — and I like to think I know what I'm doing in this area.

Although I was pleasantly surprised to be presented with better flight options, the main reason I'd taken my travel plans to a travel agent was because the company accepted Q Card and I was able to pay off my flights and hotels over three months, interest free.

There are also longer-term finance options, which makes paying for a trip a little easier. I just set up automatic payments and forget about it until it's paid.

Whether you use a travel agent or not really depends on what kind of holiday you're after.

For a short trip across the Ditch, it's easy enough to just book it yourself. But if you're going further abroad, or looking for a cruise, travel agents definitely have the edge in that area.

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Another benefit, which can't be overstated enough, is peace of mind. If everything goes pear-shaped during your travels, it's not on you. There's a person you can contact who will (hopefully) sort everything out.

So I'd recommend using a travel agent for your next trip — rather than costing you more, you may actually save money.

Readers respond: Annette Perjanik wrote in with her thoughts on the pleasures of travelling Business Class.

"You commented in your article that Business Class is 'still just a seat on a plane'. If you can afford it, I think it's well worth the extra cost. It's not just a seat, but a flat lie down bed and this is a real bonus for long-haul flights, particularly for seniors.

"The food and service is better and there's no one leaning their seat back to take over some of your space. You also get two bags for check-in rather than one and you avoid the long queues. You can pick up a reasonable price for a fare if you take an airline such as China Southern, which we found exceptional value.

"Another point you might be interested in. I have planned a three week car trip with my husband around central Italy in April. Instead of booking hotels, we have booked houses in the countryside for the same price, (and sometimes cheaper), as a hotel room. I was amazed at what is available if you are prepared to travel a short distance from the main cities and towns."

Email your questions to askaway@nzherald.co.nz
Eli cannot answer all questions and can't correspond with readers.
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