Priceline, Kayak, Expedia, TripAdvisor, STA, Jetsetter.  Which website do you turn to when you are ready to book?  Or do you turn to all of them?  With the increasing prevalence of airline, hotel, and tour aggregators (sites that compile prices for multiple brands on the same route), it looks like we’ll soon need to aggregate our aggregators.  That is, unless we hire travel agents.

When the internet became our ultimate concierge for everything from bidding on washer/dryers to booking cruises down the Nile, the “travel agent” became an archaic reminder of vacations past.  However, now that we are over-saturated with prices and information–some of which, by the way, is hidden-fee, pre-tax bullshit–it pays to have someone available to navigate the storm.  And that is why technologically-savvy travel agents are the Rocky Balboas of a plummeting travel economy.  Saving time and often money, travelers are again turning to the experts to determine whether Priceline or Expedia is offering the best deal, or if that hotel + airfare package is the most economical way to go.

Costa Brava, Spain. Spend less time side-lined and more time on the road with the help of your travel guru.

Travel agents have an edge with cruise lines and airlines that even our favorite aggregators lack: the human element.  Armed with agent deals and the right Rolodex (or should I say BBM list),  travel agents are trained to know where to hunt for the deals and who to harass.  Their ability to pick up a phone and speak with a human instead of an operator when booking your next flexible-date study abroad flight could mean hundreds of dollars left in your bank account.  They also consult (or know who to consult) when it comes to arranging visas for your extended stay.  Not only is your agent  cognizant of hidden deals, but he or she also tends to know when it’s possible to pick up some complimentary swag.  Free bottle of wine on your first night in Madrid?  It ain’t coming from a robot at Expedia, sister.  By the way: most agents do not charge an overhead fee for consultation.  Their commission comes from your bookings, meaning that you get guru-tastic advice AND a trip for the same price as if you had booked it yourself.

If your travel agent is certified through a firm like Liberty or American Express, they can even offer specially-priced trip insurance in case an emergency should take you from Berlin back to Boston.  In the spring of 2010, I found myself logging hundreds of hours on the phone with my travel agency attempting to return to London after the Icelandic volcanic eruption.  While friends played a game of roulette booking flights and watching them get canceled for a week, my agent made the proper calls to score me the last seat on the Euro Star departing from Paris.  While everyone else was wasting money on extended hotel stays and useless flights, I was waving au revoir from Gare du Nord.  Keep in touch with your agent as your traveling progresses — you never know when you’ll need a last-minute hotel room due to spewing volcanic ash.

As trip planning becomes increasingly electronic, turning to a human being is a less obvious but certainly wise choice in booking a voyage.  Besides, your aggregator won’t be booking you a complimentary champagne breakfast on your next cruise as a “thank you” for using their services.  You’ll be lucky if you get a refund.