For some, planning vacation jaunts is an enjoyable exercise. Thanks to dozens of travel websites offering customer reviews, price-comparison apps, and travel blogs and columns, it’s never been easier to find ideas and to book trips. But all this technology also can overwhelm. That quick three-day-weekend trip can mean sifting through web page after web page of info, and the lack of competition within most of the travel industry means finding good deals isn't always easy. Oh, and by the way: NEWS FLASH!—many online travel reviews are unreliable.

If you want expert advice and/or don’t want to slog through all the websites, consider hiring a travel agent. In an era when there are fewer agents than before the internet age, the ones left standing are often destination experts who provide superior service.

But since many types of travel-related commissions have dried up, travel agencies now charge fees for most services, so using an agent usually costs more than booking on your own. The best approach is to view your transaction with an agency as paying for expert consultation, rather than using it simply as a booking service.

Although most of the agencies that have survived the online relocation of the travel marketplace have done so by offering superior advice and service, some aren’t worth your money or time. Our ratings of agencies will help you find an agency you can count on.

Work with an agent who possesses specialized knowledge of your destination. The agent should have recently visited the area, or at least have considerable experience booking trips for other clients there.