Today is National Travel Agent Day, and I want to take this time to let everyone reading understand how exactly travel agents work, mainly how we get paid.
One of the biggest challenges that I have faced as a travel agent is skepticism. The biggest concern would be the risk of hidden fees or extra charges someone is going to have to pay to use a travel agent. The truth is, in most cases, there are no fees. Seriously, we work for our clients for “free.”
Okay, I know I put “free” in quotation marks, so you’re already confused. Allow me to explain.
Let’s say you are looking at sailing on Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Symphony of the Seas, and you are ready to book that cruise. Since you are on Royal Caribbean’s website exploring all of the amazing features of this awesome ship, you go ahead and book directly through Royal Caribbean, thinking you are getting the best deal because there’s no middle man.
You’re telling your neighbor about your exciting cruise that you just booked, and the two of you decide that you want to vacation together, so your neighbor contacts their travel agent and they book the same cruise in the same stateroom category that you booked. The kicker? They booked it for the exact same price. How did they not pay extra for the travel agent? How is she getting paid?
The truth is, both you and your neighbor are paying a fee to use a travel agent. Yes, I suppose there is a hidden fee, but it’s charged by the travel supplier, who in this case, is Royal Caribbean, and not the travel agent. Travel suppliers build fees into their pricing structure to compensate travel agents, and they charge those same fees to guests that do not use agents. They don’t discount the vacation because you don’t use a travel agent. Oh, no…they pocket that fee, instead.
Essentially, everyone is paying for a travel agent, but only those that actually book with one are getting the personalized attention and service that an agent will provide them. Everyone else is getting frustrated dealing with websites and call centers anytime they have a question. Everyone else is relying on cruise forums and Facebook groups for recommendations from hundreds of random strangers who may or may not have their best interests in mind. Everyone else is doing a LOT of work for their vacation. Aren’t vacations supposed to be relaxing and fun? Shouldn’t planning a vacation be the same?
If you’re paying for the services of a travel agent, then why aren’t you using one?
There are some agents that will charge what they call a “planning fee.” Personally, I am against this. Agents that charge these fees do so to avoid having clients cancel their vacations. You see, we are only paid if you actually go on vacation. If we spend hours quoting different trips and putting together itineraries and then you have to cancel, we don’t get paid. Some agents feel that charging a planning fee is an insurance policy for their time.
My personal opinion is that any kind of business takes a risk of goods being returned or services being canceled. It’s a risk of doing business and it happens every day. If you come across someone that charges a fee, don’t be afraid to ask them what that fee is for. Ask them how they are different from an agent that does not charge a fee. Chances are, there is no difference.
I will never charge planning fees. There have even been some instances where I have not been paid by a travel supplier, meaning I have literally worked for free. This does not happen often. Why would I work and not get paid? Well, because I believe the best advertisement is a word of mouth referral. The trips I have planned completely for free are usually very short (2-3 days) and have very few components to them. They generally take very little work on my part, and those clients could book a bigger trip with me in the future or refer me to their friends and family.
Remember, speaking to an agent does not lock you in to only working with that one agent. Interview them. Ask questions. Get a feel for their knowledge and experience before you agree to book with them. Check their reviews on Facebook, Google, Yelp, Next Door, or whatever referral services that they might appear on. There are a LOT of travel agents out there, so you are going to want to go with someone you really make a connection with and feel comfortable booking your trip with.
I really hope I have helped you understand how travel agents are compensated and put your mind at ease regarding any fees you might be charged for using one. Keep in mind that a great travel agent will treat your vacation as if it were their own, making sure you get the vest value for your vacation and are kept up to date on any updates or changes to your itinerary.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to a travel agent when you are ready to plan your next vacation. Remember, you are also supporting a small business when you do!