Most people don't know enough about Southeast Asia to confidently book themselves a vacation to the area. They're not sure which cities are cheapest to fly into, what the passport and visa regulations are, and which hotels are going to be as comfortable as the resorts they usually book into. However, many of these same people also balk at paying the fees a travel agency will require to book for you. Before you decide to go it alone anyway, let's explore why travel agents charge fees and how much is reasonable.
In the old days, travel agents were like real estate agents - their commission was paid by the seller who gets business on the sale arranged by the agency. In real estate that means whoever owns the luxury cottage for example. In travel, that means whoever owns the airlines. However, with the recent financial struggles of many airlines, they've stopped paying commissions to travel agents, meaning they must charge their clients for services or find another line of work.
Fees charged by travel agents vary widely because there is no central regulatory body that determines how much they're able to charge. However, the going rate for booking a vacation on a clients behalf is usually around $20 - $50 per person depending on the complexity of the arrangements. For example, if they're arranging for you to rent a boat or join an isolated commune, it's more difficult to research and make these bookings than it is to choose a hotel and call for a reservation. Before you book with an agent, you can ask for a fee estimate on the type of vacation you want to book.
In order to avoid paying this commission, many people are taking their vacations into their own hands and booking everything from their airport taxi to their rental car by themselves. However, this involved many steps and a lot of research to make sure the places you book with are reputable and safe. The process is much quicker, easier, and comes with better guarantees if you trust your trip to a travel agent, who can also provide support if anything goes wrong during your trip.
You may think that using an online travel agency such as Expedia or Travelocity will get you the best rate, but that's not always the case. Travel agencies may be able to use their connections and credentials to secure you a discount on your trip that will exceed their fees. Online travel agencies also charge booking fees as well, so often you're not really saving anything by doing it yourself.