I agree about the airfares; booking directly through the airline is usually the best way to go.
However, if you're doing a resort stay, often the 'package' deal is better than booking it independently. Just this week I booked a family of 6 going to Cancun for a week during Christmas. I looked at every possibility and found that if we booked the airfare separate from the package price, it would cost them $150 more per person. So we saved them $900 by booking it as a package deal through our wholesaler.
As for those 'start up' travel agencies that Cruising Time mentioned, you'll find that in every profession out there, not just travel agencies. And you're right, it's impossible to know everything about everything to do with travel. No one could travel on every cruise line, every ship, every port, and stay at every hotel or resort. Again, same thing could be said about every car and we know how used car salesmen are!
Then again, when you're doing your own reservations on a cruise or on an itinerary you've never done before, how do you determine if it's right or not? You do your research and rely on the opinions of others.
Same can be said about a travel agent. For example, we have over 900 agents with Cruise Planners and we all belong to the same forum where we can share information. So if a client wants something we've not personally done, most often we can solicit information from those who have been there done that so we can get personalized input.
Bottom line is that yes, there are some agents that are worse than others, but then again, there are some that are better. It's best to find one you feel comfortable with because it's better to use them than not. The number one reason is that if you have any problems and you booked it yourself, you're on your own. If you worked with an agent, they have resources and contacts not available to you, so you can let them do the work and most often get results you would not be able to get.
I can't tell you how many stories I've heard from new clients who said they were through doing it on their own because of problems they've had in the past. Time and time again they've told me about making their own reservations, had problems while on their trip, and could not get any help.
I was involved in travel for over 25 years before starting my own company 11 years ago and I say this with all sincerity; knowing what I know now - with the exception of airfare and the occasional hotel room, I would never book anything without using an agent. Of course, that would never stop me from still doing my own research to insure I'm getting what I really want and I would still monitor the prices to insure I got any specials or price reductions that may come along. But for peace of mind, I'll let them do the work, especially when I'm paying the same or less than people who are doing it themselves.
It's like purchasing or not purchasing travel insurance. I've seen many situations where people have not purchased it and it ended up costing them alot of money. As for me, I don't leave home without it. As I tell my clients, you hope it's a waste of your money because if you need it, it's usually not for a good reason. But if you need it, you're damn glad you've got it!
Same can be said about having an agent. You hope you really don't need to see how good they are in handling problems, because if you have a major problem, it's usually not a good thing. But if you need them, you're damn glad you've got one!