Travel agents have an edge over Internet travel sites, because they are trained to work the system. Travel agents know how to use the central reservation systems better and faster to unearth information. They may have access to all airline booking systems, although sometimes they are under contract with only one central reservation system. They also can check fares on lesser-known airlines not in the four systems. Typically, airlines outside the systems are the smaller, discount airlines. Obviously, you don't want to leave them out of your search!

Another travel agent benefit is the access to a wide range of services beyond the flight. A travel agent can provide information about vacation package deals and finalize accommodations and car rentals in one fell swoop. These packages can be amazing, because even if the flight itself isn't such a deal, you might get tremendous savings on hotel prices. Internet travel sites also provide these services, but like the airline searches, they require an affinity for entering dates and specifying choices.

Agents also have in-depth knowledge about your destination and can provide the personal touch, helping you with restaurant recommendations and reservations, for example. When selecting an agent, ask friends and family to recommend someone they trust who has come through for them in the past.

So why not ditch the Internet and go straight to a travel agent? The answer is simple: convenience. While travel agents are a good source of information, they are human and deal with numerous demanding customers such as yourself. That means you may be put on hold or your agent may not be available when you are, whereas the Internet can be accessed at any time. Speaking of the Internet, travel agents abhor the web because it takes them and their commissions out of the picture. Granted, their commissions have dwindled recently because airlines don't want to pay as much. Agents make 5% commission on airplane tickets, which is capped at $50 for a round-trip and $25 for a one-way domestic ticket.

The commission system could also affect how hard they search for the cheapest tickets. While travel agents say they actively pursue the lowest fare for each customer, how much time would you spend tracking down a $200 ticket rather than selling the $500 one? Which ticket makes your 5% commission bigger? That's why you should still do your own independent research on the Internet, even if you use a travel agent (and vice versa). If you find a lower price, throw it in his/her face. Then the agent will know that you're a vigilant consumer and might just give you what you want.