Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) recently blogged on The Less Feature. After a frustrating online experience, he wishes he could pay more for fewer options in several areas of life, noting his fondness of a simple iPad as his example. I agree with his point (my Apple zealotry confirming this) except for his main complaint: travel. He notes that after fighting several travel-booking sites:

…The flight I picked had all sorts of seating options and levels of travel that I needed to research. Then I needed to arrange the rental car, the hotel, and the airport pickup. Then I took all of the information and reformatted it in a way I could read. At some point in the process I crossed a line: The time to plan and book the trip took longer than it will take to fly across the entire country… Worse yet, I don’t have the slightest confidence that I got the best deal or the most convenient flight.

These travel-booking sites that Adams mentions were invented to make an inherently complicated process easier. For a short vacation to downtown NYC or booking a flight and rental car to see family, this can work great. But what if you need something more complicated? Multiple-cities? Multiple airlines? Rail or complex car rental? Out-of-the-way hotels, bed and breakfasts, or attraction tickets? The multitude of destinations, options, customizations, and personalizations cannot be simplified. A travel agent helps navigate the complexities, either for an included commission or a reasonable fee.

Not that a person can’t do all this work themselves. Some, in fact, enjoy it. What travel agents offer is convenience, saving time and, often, money for the busy. Not everyone thinks this is worth their dollars, and that’s ok. For those that do, travel agents offer a great service. And the travel sites exist for those who want to hunt or who don’t need many options.

The tax code should be more comprehensible, but until it is I’m going to enlist the help of someone to assist me with my return. I can do it myself, but I don’t want to. Some don’t want to spend time cleaning or mowing their lawn or changing their oil and will pay extra for such services.

It’s the diversity and options that make travel great. Whether you want to save time or need more than simplicity (and I’m not sure which category Adams falls into), there’s an agent for that.

Disclaimer: My wife is a travel agent and manages other travel agents. Some are willing to pay for her services and others aren’t. It’s interesting to me to see how people choose to travel and what they’re looking for. It’s also sad when a problem comes up, and someone tries to call customer service on a website because a flight was cancelled or a booking was wrong.