Molecular phylogeography has revolutionised our ability to infer past biogeographic events from cross-sectional data on current parasite populations. In ecological parasitology, this approach has been used to address fundamental questions concerning host-parasite co-evolution and geographic patterns of spread, and has raised many technical issues and problems of interpretation. For applied parasitologists, the added complexity inherent in adding population genetic structure to perceived parasite distributions can sometimes seem to cloud rather than clarify approaches to control. In this paper, we use case studies firstly to illustrate the potential extent of cryptic diversity in parasite and parasitoid populations, secondly to consider how anthropogenic influences including movement of domestic animals affect the geographic distribution and host associations of parasite genotypes, and thirdly to explore the applied relevance of these processes to parasites of socio-economic importance. The contribution of phylogeographic approaches to deeper understanding of parasite biology in these cases is assessed. Thus, molecular data on the emerging parasites Angiostrongylus vasorum in dogs and wild canids, and the myiasis-causing flies Lucilia spp. in sheep and Cochliomyia hominovorax in humans, lead to clear implications for control efforts to limit global spread. Broader applications of molecular phylogeography to understanding parasite distributions in an era of rapid global change are also discussed.