I often get the question, “Do people really use travel agents anymore?” While I can’t answer for the world at large, I can answer for Costa Rica: Yes! A million times, yes. Because of that other subset of travelers? They’re the ones who tell me, “We planned through a Costa Rica travel agent, and they were so knowledgeable and set everything up for us.”
Travel agents can be indispensable when planning your vacation in Costa Rica. But, they’re not for everyone. So if you’re unsure or even just on the fence, read on. But first, a disclaimer:
Disclaimer: At Costa Rica TripKit, we’re not travel agents. We’re just everyday, regular people who live in and love Costa Rica. We have no vested interest here. We’re not trying to pull the wool over your eyes; we’re simply sharing our knowledge. So, here goes!
Costa Rica Travel Agent Benefits
Upside: You Won’t Pay Anything
Let’s jump in with the most pressing question: Cost. Which, to you, is zero.
In Costa Rica, tourism is huge. It’s the country’s most important economic activity, in fact. As such, the tourism industry has grown up around the idea of making travelers happy. And paying $$$ for travel agents makes no-one happy.
So here’s how it works: In Costa Rica, tourism providers – hotels, transportation companies, tour operators, guides, parks, etc. – pay travel agents by a commission. Without upcharging you.
For example, let’s say you’re traveling to Arenal and want to stay at XYZ Hotel. If you’re a DIY traveler, you’d go to XYZ Hotel’s website to book directly, and you’d book for their published rate of, say, $150/night. However, if a Costa Rica travel agent books you at XYZ Hotel, you’d still pay $150/night. The difference is, when your travel agent books for you, the hotel pays a commission (say, 15% of that $150 per night).
Upside: Their Advice is GOLDEN
Good travel agents offer extremely valuable, irreplaceable advice. We’re not talking just advice of the where-to-go variety, but rather all the ins-and-outs of traveling to and around Costa Rica. Things only experienced Costa Rica travel agents would know.
We’re talking all those things you wouldn’t even think to google, like whether you need to renew your passport before your trip, or how you can make a super-tight schedule work (and when you can’t – no, don’t even try it!), or whether you’ll need to pay the airport exit tax.
Additionally, travel agents have insights that your guidebooks won’t touch (although our DIY Costa Rica itineraries do since they were developed by CR travel pros!). We’re talking about things like when is a private driver cheaper than a semi-private shuttle, or how (and where) to book adventure connections, or how to get a discount on your preferred Arenal hot springs.
Upside: They’ve Been There, Done That
Speaking of golden advice, good travel agents have literally Been There, Done That: They’ve visited many hotels (recently), done many tours (recently), and visited many parks (recently). No, really – that’s part of their job. They do site visits and spot checks throughout the year, to be sure that quality is consistent. Stock photos on a website don’t cut it.
So, when they recommend a hotel – they’re most likely recommending one they’ve been to and loved. When they recommend a zip line tour – they’re subtly telling you, “this one’s the best canopy tour [out of the dozen you found online] in Monteverde.” These are real people with real opinions. And real standards. And that’s to your advantage.
Upside: No Worries
Last-minute changes? Something went wrong? Forget to add something to your trip? Flight info change?
No problem. When you work with a travel agent, you only have to send one email and your travel pro takes care of all the logistical stuff. On the other hand, if you DIY the trip, you’re in charge of calling the hotels, and rescheduling the rental car, and re-booking your airport pickup, and blah blah blah.
Costa Rica Travel Agent Oppositions
Downside: Flash Sales & Online Deals Do Not Apply
One of the greatest travel rushes is scoring a screaming deal online. Bad news: Unfortunately, those deals are online-only and your travel agent can’t book them for you. With a travel agent, you’re stuck paying full price for your hotels, tours, and transportation. Which, while not such a big deal in the high season (December-May, when deals are few), can be frustrating in the low season when discounts are more common.
Downside: You Have to Find the Right Travel Agent
Unfortunately, there are some shysters out there. So, if you go the travel agent route, you need to find a reliable, trustworthy travel agent with plenty of experience. Do your research. Ask for recommendations. Follow-up on references.
Quick Cheat: If you’re leaning toward the travel agent route, we’re happy to recommend our trusted partner, a travel agency with plenty of experience and many knowledgeable travel pros. They’ll help you plan your 100% custom trip, right down to the nitty gritty details that matter most. At no cost to you, of course.