Perform at least some research on your own. Knowing the basics—including information about available deals—will help you determine if you’re working with an incompetent or lazy agent.

Shop on your own if your flight requirements are complex. You may also turn up package deals unknown to agents.

If you know exactly what flight, hotel, cruise, or other services you want, and if the service provider pays commissions, consider doing your agent a favor by letting him or her book the trip. (Obviously, you won’t want to do an agent any favors unless he or she acknowledges them by dropping their fees.) Giving an easy commission to an agent should build goodwill that might result in lower fees later on, when you actually need the agent’s expertise. In some situations, of course, booking through an agent may not be a good idea—for example, if you can qualify directly for a hotel rate that isn’t available if booked through an agent.

Even if you regularly rely on one agent, consider using a different one for trips that require special knowledge. For example, if you’re going to China and your regular agency has little expertise in Asia, contact an agency that knows the territory. Know, too, that you don’t have to use an agency that’s even located in your city. Since they can conduct business over the phone and via email and internet, specialty agencies can be located anywhere.

Let your agent know that you sometimes check other options, so he or she doesn’t become complacent.

Beware of low-priced suppliers neither you nor your agent has heard of. They may be scams or have significant strings attached.

Pay by credit card. If you have a problem you can dispute the charge with your credit card company, and likely will get a refund.