Benefits of a Travel Agent

By David E. Anderson
This item appears on page 27 of the February 2017 issue.

Rebecca F. of Brownell Travel

When my wife and I began overseas travel in the 1970s, one of the few ways we were able to get airline tickets was through travel agents. This was especially true for us, since we lived in a very small town.

However, I soon discovered that the local travel agents didn’t really do much beyond selling group tours and airline tickets. For example, when I wanted a suggestion for a small hotel in Florence, Italy, the agent had no idea where to start, so, using suggestions from Rick Steves’ guidebooks, I wrote directly to several places and ended up with a great small hotel.

Of course, the Internet changed all of that, and I eventually became my own travel agent. However, 16 years ago I wanted to arrange an Adriatic cruise, and I found a great one, but the company would deal only with licensed travel agents. I asked for a suggestion and, as they say, ‘the rest is history.’

They suggested Rebecca Falkenberry, an independent agent working for Brownell Travel (St. Petersburg, FL; 727/954-8252,, an agency that hosts agents all over the country. I live in Pennsylvania and Rebecca is in Florida, but, with email and phone calls, we did just fine.

Since that time, my wife and I have done all of our travel arrangements through Rebecca, and there was one incident that convinced me a travel agent is essential.

Rebecca arranged a trip to South Africa in 2009 through South African Airways, and we had planned to fly to New York early in the morning to catch our late-afternoon flight to Johannesburg. A few days before the flight, she noticed that the airline had changed the flight so that it now departed in the morning, one hour before we arrived! The airline had not notified us of this change.

Not only did Rebecca secure new tickets from Pittsburgh to New York at no charge, she arranged for a number of upgrades, including concierge service at the Johannesburg airport as we changed planes in Cape Town plus a hotel upgrade and a free wine tour.

Yes, the Internet is great, but I’m convinced that when things go wrong, there is no substitute for a real live expert who knows whom to call and has more clout than a single individual.

One more great thing about working with Rebecca — Brownell is a member of the Virtuoso consortium, a worldwide travel group, which means she has access to special deals at resorts, hotels, etc., that aren’t available to the general public.

In addition, there are often little extras. On a cruise with Viking River Cruises, my wife and I each got a $100 shipboard credit just because we booked through a Virtuoso agent.

Meadville, PA