Travel Agents – Are You Being Ripped Off?

right up there with real estate agents and used car sales people, travel agents are subject to much suspicion when it comes to sales tactics and prices. But are you really being sized up and ripped off every time you walk into an agency or book a holiday?

The answer is yes, you will be sized up and yes, given half the chance many agents will overcharge, some by as much as they can get away with.

With the great resources available on the net most travellers will not walk into an agency until they feel they have a good handle on their destination and current prices. Yet no matter how savvy you are it’s still worth knowing how agents work before you decide to use one.

There are two aspects to the way agents work in Australia that affect the service you are given. The first is the way agents are paid. Second is the pushing of particular agency ‘preferred’ products like tours (with high commission levels) onto the customer without disclosing this conflict of interest.

No real newsflash here: agents are paid on commission. But people might not realise that base pay rates are so low, agents need every dollar they can squeeze out of you. The pay structure generally works like this:

* The agent is paid a base amount, which is a paltry sum at best. The base amount is fairly consistent amongst the major agencies, and will go up slightly the longer the agent stays in the job.

* Extra income is based on commission paid against the revenue agents bring in. Different levels of revenue are made from every product they sell, from very little (say a hotel transfer) to up to 50% revenue for travel insurance. ‘Preferred products’ such as tours or flights will have higher levels of revenue.

* Of this total revenue, agents are paid a monthly percentage, usually on a sliding scale (the more the agents bring in the higher the percentage they get). This pay scale will depend on the agency and some are more generous than others. Without this commission the base amount is barely enough to live on (we are talking burger flipping rates).

* There is massive pressure on agents to hit monthly revenue targets (aside from actually making a living), and thus the job has a very high turnover rate (1-2 years is a fair stint as a travel agent or even store manager).

* But what about the perks? Agents fly all the time right? In short there is no particular savings on flights at present. Some agencies are better than others but the perks of the job are almost non-existent compared to how it used to be. Agents are not always travelling and when they do it’s not as cheap as people think. For that you need a job, or your dad or mum needs a job, with Qantas.

* Some companies overseas pay differently so the focus is on customer service rather than sales. We are not so lucky.

The fact that the job is commission based seems to be missed by many customers who think agents are free to give advice all day as that’s what they get paid for. The reality is that they make very little unless they actually sell you something; it’s a sales job pure and simple.

This pressure on agents can lead to some very dubious practice.

So what could be loosely defined as a situation where somebody is being ripped off? There’s a big difference between paying extra for the agents time and them overcharging you by hundreds, or even thousands, on your holiday.

Standard booking fees at most agencies are $50.00 – $100.00, depending on the product being sold (less for domestic travel). These fees can be waived at some agencies rather than losing a sale if you are price matching or bargaining hard with the agent.

These fees are not a huge price to pay for what might be hours of the agents time (and remember the agent only gets a small percentage of that fee – most goes to the agency), but if you are paying any more than the standard fees, you are paying too much.

The most likely chance you have of being ripped off is if you have failed to shop around, and get caught up in the agent’s enthusiastic sales tactics (always beware the most upbeat and enthusiastic agent).

Agents will size up how much you know about your destination, the current price of flights and accommodation before quoting you a price. If you tell the agent “it’s my first time away” your chances of paying way too much increase dramatically.

Travelling to an out of the way destination might fall into this category as well, or when navigating the maze of round the world tickets. While it’s easy enough to book RTW trips on the net many people still stick with an agent, and leave themselves vulnerable to overcharging in the process.

Also, and unfortunately so, times of grief or any urgent need to get yourself on a flight are also seen by many agents as a time to cash in on vulnerable customers.

In terms of flights, agents will usually have minimum or net rates that they are free to add whatever extra they can get away with. This is where you can be overcharged if you haven’t shopped around. There is only a minimum, not a standard or maximum price for flights.

Consider as well that some agents are better than others at finding cheap flights. A high quote might just be a lack of knowledge of the destination/airlines. Many agents will have spent less than a year in the job and it can take time to learn how to get the better deals for customers, especially on out of the way routes. Another reason to check online first.

Yet another area in which to be careful is with refunds. It is not uncommon for some angents to overcharge you to cancel flights or tours. This can be done simply by the agent changing the terms of the agreement between you and the agency when you first pay a deposit or in full (as you have no direct contact with the airline). So what might have been a $350.00 cancellation fee on flights can be easily be turned into a non refundable ticket without the knowledge of the airline or tour company. Importantly this is not a standard practice (some agancies have measures in place to stop this) but it does happen. Be really careful and check elsewhere before you commit to a non refundable airfare!

The second and perhaps most dodgy aspect of travel agency practice is the pushing of preferred products onto customers.

This is not technically a rip off, but if you’re after unbiased product advice steer clear of most travel agents. The major agencies will have certain tour companies and even airlines from which they will get higher commissions (which can be double that of other tour companies they might sell).

So you’re booking a tour in South America and want some advice on a tour company? Chances are you will be pushed into using the agencies preferred supplier as they make more money out of you that way. As yet there is no legal requirement for agencies to declare this conflict of interest. Just look around the shelves of the major agencies and it will be clear from the uniform brochures who their preferred suppliers are.

This is not to say these companies are not a decent choice, just be aware any advice is not without considerable bias. You need to make sure the tour company suits your needs and don’t rely solely on an agent’s advice on this (contact the company direct if you have any queries).

This conflict of interest can be applied to many products they sell. The major agencies will have preferred hotels and car hire companies. For almost every product travel agent dirty tricks, travel agent rip offs, travel advice, travel tips there will be a preference they give you that makes them more money. Agents will themselves often have little goals in mind when selling you a holiday.

There are always incentives from different travel companies for agents to sell their product. The incentive might be ‘sell five tours get one free’ or something similar. This is another reason agents can give you highly biased advice.

Smaller more independent agencies are more likely to give you unbiased advice as they may not have the same deals with tour operators as the major players.

If you are unsure about the charges attached to any products, simply ask what exactly you are being charged for as agents should disclose any booking fees involved (sometimes these fees can be hidden). If you are suspicious don’t fall for any pressure tactics, just walk away and check another agency or online before you book (there’s always another agency close enough).

So the bottom line really is just to make yourself as aware as possible of current pricing before you see an agent. You can still get great deals through a good agent (booking online is not always cheaper) and there is no need to be ripped off if you are savvy about your planning. Advice from a good agent on your destination can be invaluable, just take product advice with a grain of salt.

I left the job in part due to the pressure to overcharge and BS on which company customers should travel with. Most people get into the job because they love to travel, but may end up finding, like I did, that the job is not worth the stress.

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Choose a Competent Travel Agent

The travelling industry has become so sophisticated at present that has transformed our chaotic task of travelling into a simplistic job. The cause is that this field is thriving recruiting and placing several travel agents and representatives that look out of every minute detail of their customers while travelling. A travel agent helps his consumers to make his travel arrangements, steering him about the target and needs that can arise to him.

These agents hold wide information about different travel pacts. The best setting to direct people as to which arrangement would go with them and would give them utmost return for their money. Travel planning needs a lot of things to be considered which comprise online reservations, arranging for tourism trips, earlier arrangement of hotels etc. It is thus recommended that the management of all this is best left to an expert and that what a travel agent be.

What to hunt for in travel agents?

Before choosing an agent, you must determine you are choosing a competent and practiced agent that will facilitate you while traveling. So, you must consider these aspects;

Travel experience;

An agent who has traveled to the site have direct knowledge of things to visit, and the best places to reside at your destination.

Certifications;

By law, travel agents are not requisite to have any certification. Still, many organizations offer guidelines to help you choose the trustworthy agencies.

Specialty;

You may desire an agent who is expert in certain kinds of tours. Does the mediator specialize in adventure tours or luxury travel? Is the agent a travel practiced?

Affiliation;

While a number of agents work as workers of a travel agency, self-governing contractors with their own agencies mostly work under the sponsorship of an associate or host travel agency in order to share contacts, resources and skill. Both kinds of the agent can be likewise good. If you are working with a self-governing agent, then discover the associate travel agency.

Philosophy;

What is the agent’s viewpoint on travel? Ask this guarantee that the consultant is a good match for you. For example, if you wince at the thought of roughing it in anything less than a five-star lodge, an agent who considers a hotel room is nothing more than a place to sleep may not be suitable for you.

It, thus, becomes obvious that the role played by the travel agent is enormously significant, and the triumph and failure of the whole project depends on an agent. They also go far off in minimizing the troubles that faces while traveling and make accessible to them the best packed that goes well with their budget. Competent travel agents have an edge over about any other supplier of travel. They identify what you feel like. They comprehend your language. And they’re available for you when you come across difficulty. In other words, travel agents aren’t old-fashioned. Just the inefficient ones are.

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What Is A Home Based Travel Agent?

Many people are unclear about the travel industry. Travel agents are often thought to be the same as real estate agents. Becoming a travel agent or more specifically a home based travel agent is an exciting career change or retirement option. Some people do it full time while many do it as a part time business.

A travel agent books travel for customers and is paid by suppliers a commission on the booking. For bookings that suppliers do not pay a commission on, a travel agent also can charge the client a service fee for his/her time. An example is if you were to book a hotel for a client, the hotel would then send a check to the agency after the client checked out. Most hotels pay 10% of the price of the hotel before taxes and fees. A $100 per night hotel reservation would mean $10 a night for the travel agent who made the booking. This hotel would cost the same whether the customer uses a travel agent or books through the hotel directly. In many cases the travel agent can get a better price. It costs the customer nothing to use the travel agent unless the travel agent charges service fees.

Can anyone do this? In order to work with suppliers, you must have an account set up with the supplier. Most require an agency to hold an IATAN, CLIA or ARC number. IATAN stands for International Airlines Travel Agent Network. CLIA stands for Cruise Lines International Association. ARC stands for Airline Reporting Corporation. Each of these memberships requires different things including sales, money in the bank, experience or training in the industry, and membership fees. Many will require Errors and Omissions insurance of $1,000,000 or more.

For the average travel agent, membership is not a possibility with some organizations so the agent will team up with an agency and work as an independent agent or outside agent. There are also advantages of working with an agency because most travel agents cannot make enough in sales with a particular supplier to obtain higher commission levels and bonuses. Working with an agency with many agents can increase the commission percentages the agent gets because of the joint sales of all the agents at the agency. Support is also a very important aspect of being a successful agent. Agents who do not work with others tend to feel more isolated and have to learn to do it all solo. Since no agent can have the experience of being everywhere in the world or staying at every hotel or resort, having others that you can get advice from is really helpful.

The future of travel agencies is always questioned. The truth is the industry has changed in many ways. Some changes were for the better, some for the worse. Many airlines have cut commissions for travel agents. However, there are many other suppliers who are paying travel agents more than they were ten years ago. Cruises used to be booked by only the rich and now people in every income book cruises. Each year more and more people go on cruises. Most people say they want to go on a cruise at least once and many who go on their first come home to want to book another.

You can earn commission on many travel reservations.

Hotels
Rental Cars
Tour Packages
Cruises
Some airline tickets
International airline tickets
Travel insurance
Ground transportation including limos
Attraction tickets
Train tickets

People all need travel arrangements at some point in time. Those who take road trips need hotel reservations. Those who need to travel for business need airline tickets, rental cars, and hotel reservations. Families want to experience vacations with their loved ones. People visit family and relatives. Most people who win money say they are going to spend it to take a nice vacation. Newly married couples go on honeymoons. You are not selling something that is hard to sell. People contact you for help, you are not calling them or approaching them trying to sell them something they don’t want.

Educating the public is the main thing any travel agent must do. Most people put travel agents into the same category as real estate agents. They believe it costs additional to use a travel agent. This is untrue. In many cases a travel agent can get a better price than the general public through the suppliers who work only with travel agents. Many people do not know all the options for booking a vacation. A good travel agent does. Once people are educated on how a travel agent gets paid, they are more willing to work with travel agents. If a person knows that if he or she let you book a hotel and it will cost the same price regardless, she or he will work with you. It is important to let people know how you can help them save time and money on their travel arrangements.

So how do you get into the industry? Many people think they must go to school or become certified. This is not true. You can get into the industry and begin training. I don’t recommend anyone spend thousands on a travel school until he or she knows this is a career that he or she will really want to pursue. The truth is you do not have to spend thousands to get trained. There are many courses free to travel agents from suppliers. There are also organizations such as ICTA (Institute of Certified Travel Agents) who offer courses as you get more years experience in the industry. CLIA also offers courses. There are some agencies that will offer training. Even if you decide this is a career you would like to pursue, you do not need to spend thousands to become an educated and competent travel agent. There are many courses you can take with suppliers and organizations to get a better education in travel. I truly believe a hands’ on approach is the best way to become a better travel agent. Learning to work with suppliers and how to find the information your clients need is an important part of becoming a good travel agent.

How can you find an agency to work with? There are a few organizations dedicated to independent travel agents. NACTA and OSSN are the top organizations. NACTA stands for National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents. OSSN stands for Outside Sales Support Network. You can also search online for home-based travel agent programs. I would never recommend anyone spending a lot of money to start this business. It is key to first try and see if it is something you would really want to do and get training before you invest too much money into it. Get involved in the industry first and see if it is really a career that is best for you.

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How to Find the Right Travel Agent?

In today’s Hi- Tech world, we have easy access to all kinds of information. We’re able to research, compare, and book travel right in the comfort of our own home. But the question arises – Who needs a travel agent anymore?

Fewer of us do, apparently. In last one decade the travel agents statistics had fallen by about 30%.

“They are an outdated remnant of past practices that add virtually no value to any transaction today,” says one of the employee working for Michigan airlines. After my recent recommendations of travel agent in various columns, I’ve been on the receiving end of the feedback – How could i..?.

So, here let me discuss about this common query. I believe that travel agents today still offer services and information that we can’t get on Internet. Granted, some things such as booking a simple flights, most people can successfully manage on their own. A travel agent however, can recommend smaller, alternative airports that the discount carriers use. This alone can save you quite a bit of money. However, the key thing that travel agents today offer is their first hand knowledge and right information. In planning a trip or vacation, one wants to find information about the places and regions suitable to them. Here the role of a travel agent comes into act considering the fact that they have traveled to many different places, they can provide much more insight than a brochure or web page can. Thus, finding the right travel agent is inevitable. The same thing goes for tours and specialty travel such as luxury, adventure, villa rentals, etc. A competent travel adviser can be your greatest asset when you’re planning a trip. The key word here is “competent.” And let me also define what I mean by agent: I’m not necessarily talking about an offshore call center worker reading from a script or a hobbyist who paid a few hundred bucks for bogus agency credentials. I mean a bona fide, certified travel professional. Once you decide to book a trip through an agent you must go through few quality check of an agent. These few measures include:

Understanding An Agent And Using Your Intuition – It’s important to feel out a prospective travel agent to see if you can build a rapport with them. This can be done even when you’re dealing with an Internet agency, through phone calls or e-mails. Face-to-face meetings are not necessary. The choice of right travel agent comes from knowledge, not words. The correct answers to your direct questions are what count. Before you even ask for a price quote, probe the knowledge and personality of the agent you may be putting in charge of your hard-earned vacation. If you get the right feel about this person, you then ask for a price quote. If a travel agent quotes you a price that is not the same as, or lower than the cost of booking directly, or doesn’t offer incentives like free insurance, or even a pre-cruise hotel room, they are choosing not to compete — a choice some agents do make. They hope to attract uneducated consumers. This not the kind of agent we recommend, unless the service is so fantastic you don’t mind missing out on a few perks. But price alone may not always be the best factor to find the right travel agent. We want the best price, but we also want assistance and service when we need it. Hence, when your skull asks this ” How to find the right travel agent”, the above mention criteria should strike you first.

Look For Certification – A right travel agent must be certified from some travel body or institution of his nation. This proves to be more promising or as the elderly travelers say “a certified travel agent is the right travel agent”.

Stay Local And Interview The Agent – There’s no substitute for the personal touch. My best experiences with agents have been one-on-one. The ability to meet – to look the agent in the eye, to shake his or her hand – is something online agencies can’t match. (Note: not all agents work in an office, but home-based agents can and do make personal visits.) The only exception to this rule is if you’re out to find an agent with a sought-after specialty. But even then, a trusted voice on the phone is preferable to the often unintelligible, script-reading customer service associate you’re connected to when dealing with a large agency. Mind this- a professional travel agent makes personal visits. Don’t pick the first agent you find. Talk to the travel pro. Pay close attention not only to the way your prospective agent responds, but also at what’s going on in the office around you.

Pressure Check – The only way to know for certain if your travel agent is a keeper is to see what happens when you run into trouble. A right travel agent would run through your foot steps in trouble. You must conform the services provided by the agent under such circumstances.

Good travel agents have an edge over almost any other seller of travel. They know what you want. They speak your language. And they’re there for you when you run into trouble.
In other words, travel agents aren’t obsolete. Only the bad ones are.

Traveling is something I have always cherished. An expedition offers a blend of countless itineraries ranging from Heritage, culture, tribes, adventure, wildlife and much more.

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Get the Most Out of Your Travel Agent

Booking air travel, making hotel reservations and arranging vacation travel in general has changed completely with the advent of the internet and many people try to be their own travel agents. While you can arrange seemingly most of your travel yourself, you can’t do as well as your travel agent in a long run!

Travel processionals, whether your local travel agent, tour operator or destination specialist still possess contacts that you as an industry outsider do not have. As in number of other professions, travel agents, whether in a shopping center near your home or an online agency, wherever they may be located, do know something you do not, have way to book and arrange travel for you in ways unavailable or unknown to you.

Traditionally you could contact a travel agent and ask for a quote, whether a price of an air ticket, hotel or a vacation package. For the most part travel agents still provide that kind of information, although there is a limit how much information they may disclose as not all information is readily available to them.

First of all, most travel agents indeed may have at their fingertips routine cost of air ticketing, hotel rates or certain vacation packages available and will be happy to provide the price information to you instantly when asked. But once your travel request will need to be somewhat customized, whether tailored to your dates of travel or your other travel preferences, to find a relevant answer will be time consuming. Because of this time element involved, do not automatically assume an agency is keen to spend the time to furnish the information you seek when there is no commitment you will travel at all.

Look at the situations from the following perspective. In the old days if you had a problem with your car, you’d drive it to your neighborhood car mechanic and asked him to see what was wrong with it. You would drop the car off at the garage, the mechanic would have a look and tell you what the problem was. He would also give you an estimate and it was up to you to decide if you wanted him to fix it right then and there, wait or seek another opinion and another quote. His services cost you nothing.

But not anymore. These days, no garage, no car repair mechanic is willing to spend time trying to find out what’s the problem with your vehicle without charging you at least one hour labor upfront. Pay and he will look and tell you. Up to you if you will decide to take your car to another shop or have him fix it, he has covered his time spent diagnosing what’s wrong with your car.

Similarly, many travel agencies and professional travel planners and tour operators will charge you an upfront travel planning fee if you are requesting travel arrangements that first of all are time consuming, or there is no guarantee you will book anything. All you are after are essentially private tailor-made travel arrangement s and there are no simple answers or options to give you, and the only way to find out will be for the agent to dig and consult all sorts of different sources he has at this disposal and then present the travel alternatives to you for you to decide upon.

When working with a travel agent, travel planner or any other travel professional such as a knowledgeable destination specialist, keep in mind that a certain protocol will assure you will get not only the kind of travel arrangements you want in general but also you’ll gain a true partner that will always work in your best interest whether you’ll travel away from home on business or for pleasure.

1. First of all, when contacting a travel agent, whether in person or online, don’t hesitate to give them your name – don’t worry, most agents won’t spam you back. Without your name when you’re asking for a valuable travel advice most agents won’t take your request too seriously. Call if you wish but most agents prefer not to take notes, email is a way to go and for an agent to look up a fare often a time means he has to plug in a name, so might as well that name will be your real name. If you decide not to accept the booking the reservation will expire and no harm done. If you decide later to purchase the reservation the agent does not have to rekey it into the system all over again.

2. If you’re trying to be you own travel agent, even in part, say you plan to book your own hotels online, disclose it to the agent your are contacting for assistance, he/she may still be interested to help you with the rest of your travel arrangements. Don’t hide your intentions from the agent as agents don’t like to be used for information gathering purposes only.

3. If at all possible, always contact your travel agent or destination specialist as soon as you know when and where you wish to travel, not last minute before your intended departure. That is even more important when you’re planning a trip to a lesser frequented destination.

4. Don’t book your flights and hotels online and ask a travel agent to do the rest, namely the difficult parts, such as complex transportation connections, travel arrangements in remote locations or to book segments that you just feel are not safe for you to book online yourself. Give your agent to design and book your entire trip for you. The worst you can do is design your own vacation package, then copy and email the same request to dozen different agents to see who may be the lowest bidder. Yes, the internet is perfect for that kind of information gathering but look at this from a perspective of a travel agent. If he/she knows you are sending the same request to dozen agents many of them will not be too interested in dealing with you. Then again, telling them the truth they will appreciate knowing what you are doing and approach the whole thing quite differently and in the end they just might offer you a deal.

5. If you’re after booking shoe-string cost of travel, for example wishing to book the lowest type of accommodations, best be your own travel agent. Do realize that agents can’t book services that are simply too cheap to begin with, not to mention that that kind of suppliers do not pay agent s any kind of commission. The agent may still help you but keep in mind he will be doing you a favor and will be working for you at no charge. If so, appreciate it, email your thank you.

Do realize that to ask an agent million questions, get all the answers, including time consuming quotes, only for you to never replay again is definitely rude and turns agents off completely. If you are polite and respectful many will often work without any commitment on your part, providing you with information you need, working for free. But because of those that just siphon info out of agents so they could possibly book travel on their own leaves not only a sour taste in agent’s mouth but certainly induces the decision to charge au upfront planning fees when a next inquiry comes.

6. On another hand, when it comes to upper end accommodations keep in mind these hotels routinely offer discounts to agents that agents can markup and still offer you room costs below hotel rack rates. Genuine agent is not interested in selling you a higher end hotel in order to make a higher commission but to tailor in a better trip experience for you where he deems it desirable.

7. Keep in mind that there is a difference between a travel agent and a so called Destination Specialist. Most travel agents use online reservation systems to book transportation, hotel and vacation packages. They essentially book or resell ready-to-sell travel offers from a variety of suppliers that do not require more than filling in your name and dates of travel. When it comes to you needing customized arrangements, they will need to contact tour operators and destination specialists that are either part of their consortium or a network they belong to. Depending on the connections they have they will or will not be able to help you.

8. Destination Specialists pride themselves in really knowing their destinations. Many of them have indeed not only traveled extensively but know a particular destination inside-out so they can arrange travel logistics for you based on knowing, rather than looking it up in a brochure or some kind of data base. Many Destination Specialists specialize in difficult, custom designed itineraries and do not sell travel packages. Often a time though not always that kind of service reflects higher markup.

9. Last, please note that many destination specialists as well as travel agents work 110 or more hours per week because especially custom-design travel is indeed very time consuming. Being good at travel logistics does take experience and while with the internet it seems second nature to be able to arrange travel on your own, many travel professional are indeed very good at what they do! They do know more about travel than you, give them a chance, they can save you not only money but also many headaches and above all, they can assure not only that you’ll travel worry-free but that you may have a trip of your life! Keep in mind, a good agent is not after selling you a single ticket or a package tour, they want you to become a repeat client, their go-to-travel processional for rest of your life.

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