Do travel agents really save people any money? Before I became an agent, I thought that travel agents just added extra costs onto my vacation. I’m spending my hard earned money on relaxing so I don’t want to pay someone extra money for booking my travel when I could use that money for an extra night’s stay or another Michelin star restaurant experience. After looking into it more, I realized that this is a myth. The reality is that travel agents save people more than they realize and that the commissions they get paid have nothing to do with charging you extra. I know what your thinking,
“It’s too good to be true!
I can have my cake and eat it too?”
I’m hear to say, “YES!” That is exactly how it works. Below, I’m going to tell you some insider secrets about how travel agents save you money … and how in that process, they’ll still make ends meat without charging you any extra or taking away your extra vacation perks. Here’s what you’ll read below:
Commissions Are Included Costs
You already pay commissions, whether you know it or not. Commissions are built in costs for EVERY booking—every hotel room, tour group, cruise, etc.
**Wait, you’re lying to me!**
I promise you that I’m telling you the truth.
Every single booking already includes commissions in the original costs. If you decide to use the host company, they pockets all the money. If you decide to use a travel agent, the agent gets those commissions. Believe it or not, if the commissions are not included in the original price then the agent does not get commissions. There are some places like domestic flights, certain tour groups, and some companies that just do not pay any commissions.
So you know I’m not just holding back information or lying to you, there are travel agencies that charge automatic fees for non-commissioned bookings. I have seen it as a one-time cost between $20-$50. The times I’ve seen or heard of agents using this “fee” is when the agent knows that they are saving the client money on their overall trip and can therefore justify the added costs for their time and effort.
So, just how much money do these built-in commissions cost you? Commissions can typically range from 5% to 20% depending on the company, the partnership between the agent and the company, the type of booking (hotel, flight, tour group, sightseeing), and the size of the group. On average, most commissions are 10%. So for your 6 day trip at $150 per night ($900 total), the commission will typically be $15 per night ($90 total). **Remember, you would be paying the full price of $900 whether it goes the company or your travel agent.**
On average, how much time do you spend researching all the different parts of your trip? Not only doing cost comparing, but looking at the relevant 1 star and 5 star reviews. Not only looking at fun things to do, but researching seasonal events and customs that could enhance your unique experience. On average, it can take someone 10-20 hours to plan out and book their trip. If you make $30/hr, this time just added an extra $300-$600 onto your trip. You save a ton of time by using a travel agent.
This also does not include the time it takes to deal with complications. Recently, I booked a multi-country trip. I booked my clients flights and hotel for over $400 less than he could have book it on his own. I felt really proud of myself! And, he felt really good about the prices I got him (even though I downplayed just how much I saved him).
The next day, the supplier called me to say that the hotel price had gone up another $150 and there was nothing they could do about it. I’m not sure words can imagine the extent of distortion and contortion of my face in that moment. I felt really good about saving my client money and didn’t want to return to him saying I had failed at truly getting him this deal. As his travel agent, I didn’t want his trip to be ruined because he couldn’t spend that $400+ on some great addition to his vacation. In this moment, I did what most travel agents do … I negotiated with the supplier.Do you know how long this took?
After 3 daysand talking on the phone with the supplier for over 4 hours, the price of the trip DID NOT change a dime. I both saved him actual money and 4 hours’ worth of his time.
Saving You from Mistakes
Travel agents save you from making costly and time-consuming mistakes.Travel insurance, visa requirements, country customs and laws, and cancellation policies, it will cost you extra if you make a mistake in one of these areas. Having a travel agent help you navigate all of this could save you big. It sucks having to cancel your trip, especially when you have no travel insurance.
If you don’t have travel insurance, you’re likely to lose most if not all of the money that you invested in your vacation. Some credit cards have travel policies which are a part of their benefits package to you. However, you should know this credit card benefit is being discontinued by many credit card companies. Also, you need to remember that in order for you to qualify for this benefit, if your card still has this policy, you need to purchase the vacation with that specific credit card. I have known travelers to cancel their trips and denied the benefits from their credit card company because they paid with a different card that did not include this perk.
If you happen to have insurance, you know that dealing with insurance companies takes a long time. With the relationships already established, travel agents can save you more time and frustration when and if you need to cancel your trip for some reason.
Agents Perks & Discounts
Travel agents, at least good ones, don’t give you a cheap price on a vacation; they get you a GREAT DEAL! Suppliers give travel agents good perks and then the agents pass them onto you.Some hotels will provide a travel agent free rooms if they book a certain amount of nights with their hotel. For example, one hotel group gives out 1 free night for every 7 nights booked at their hotel. If there is a group that needs 5 rooms for 5 nights (a total of 25 nights), the agent will receive 3 nights free. Some agents keep these perks for themselves so they can test out the merchandise. Some agents pass these savings on to their clients. (Most times, agents will do a mixture of both: keeping some perks for themselves and passing on the savings to their clients.) In this circumstance, an agent could give those 3 nights to a VIP client, give them to a charity, or discount that group’s next trip. As travel agents book more travel with the same suppliers, they receive more perks and discounts: free nights, discounts on excursions, free flights, gifts upon arrival, resort credits, and much more. Because travel agents book more travel than you can book on your own, this is a perk that will be impossible for you to get on your own.
Group and Package Deals
Going along with the previous point, travel agents can get you great group and package deals.Whether you already have a group of friends/family or whether you want to join an already existing group, travel agents who specialize in group travel can get your group discounts and deals.
I will actually focus on this subject in more detail in a separate blog. Since it is a specialty focus of Catalyst Travel, I want to spend more dedicated time telling you about how we help you with your group travel and get you the best deals.
Wrapping It Up:
Travel agents can save you a lot of money on your vacations. While it may not be the “cheapest” price, it is the BEST DEAL! While there have been some agencies that have added extra costs to their clients, most agencies and their agents work hard to give their clients the best deal for their money. In many circumstances, a travel agent can get you a better deal than you could get on your own. Ultimately, saving you the extra $$$.
The next article will be:
Travel Agents Benefits and Myths: No One Uses Travel Agents Anymore
In the comments section, I’d love to hear your questions about travel agents that you’d like me to address in our blogs. No question is off-limits.
Before becoming a travel agent, I had a limited understanding of the benefits of using one. My mom had a lifelong dream of getting into the travel industry. In addition to her full-time job as an accountant, she worked in a hotel, a bed-and-breakfast, and a casino dealer. After 15+ years, we felt the need to take the leap of faith and become travel agents.
Even though this was mom’s dream, I had a lot of reservations about the industry. I had never used an agent before and had a lot of assumptions about them. Many of the same assumptions that I’ve heard from people when I tell them that I’m an agent.
If we were going to delve deep into the industry, I wanted to do my research to see if my assumptions were correct. If they were, I wanted to see why people became travel agents and why people would use them. We started our research and began asking a lot of questions. It was at that time that we approached Sally (the owner and operator of Catalyst Travel with 30+ years of experience as an agent) to hear about her experience. We found that there are actually a whole lot of benefits to using a travel agent that we had never known before and that the assumptions we had were merely myths(and not the cool kind of myths like unicorns and elves). I went from being a total sceptic to regretting not having used one for all of my travel before now. When my family and friends asked me why we jumped into this field, I responded by saying that “I was stupid for not using a travel agent in the past!”
In this blog, you’ll see featured articles entitled “Travel Agent Benefits & Myths.” In these articles I will explain some of the myths and benefits of using travel agents by giving you a front row seat into how much work your agent does while setting up a perfect trip for you. (You’ll read about my experience of saving a client several hundred dollars when a hotel wanted to mark up there prices last minute or about the crucial relationships that we’ve built to provide great deals and a customized experience.)
In the comments section, I’d love to hear your questions about travel agents that you’d like me to address in our blogs. No question is off-limits.
According to TSA (TSA Press Release), this year has screened an extra 6% or 13 million more passengers than this time last year. in addition to the stresses of all the minute details of your trip, you'll probably also experience long lines, security check points, and k-9's sniffling at your unspoken parts and baggage. In a recent trip from Seattle to California, I experienced what has become the norm for a city who's infrastructure hasn't caught up to it's population growth. After getting my print ticket and checking my bags, it was time to get in the security check line. I walked up the escalators and started heading to the line. To my utter amazement, the line was longer than I had expected--much longer. I looked down the airport corridor and couldn't see a clear end to the line.
So, I walked ...
... and walked ...
... and walked some more ...
only to find that the airport had set out countless line dividers that people would have to weave in and out of until we got into another large section where we would repeat the whole process and finally going through the whole process one more time until we got to the TSA Agents. It took 5 mins just to walk to the end of the line and then another 45 minutes to get in front of the TSA Agent, not to mention getting through the security checkpoint and all of those x-ray machines.
Luckily, I practice a simple routine every time I go to the airport which kept me cool, calm, and collected instead of frustrated, furious, and late for my flight. You can practice these simple routines so you can survive long airport lines as well.
Show Up Early
No one wants to run through the airport in a frantic hurry only to make it to the gate with a closed door and your flight taxiing away--only a couple minutes away from a cushioned seat, salty pretzels, and a cool refreshing beverage. That's why I always leave my house at least 2 hours in advance. Since it takes me 20 minutes to get to the airport from my house, that leaves me 1 hour and 40 minutes to check-in, go through security, and make it to my gate. In Seattle (my home airport), it is relatively easy to make it through in that amount of time (and grab a quick bite to eat or some coffee). There are times, however, that I add onto that 2 hour timeframe. When I'm flying on a holiday (or during a special event), when I'm flying during a peak hour in the day, or when I'm flying international.
People want to travel during the holiday season to see family and friends, escape from the daily grind of work, and make new traditions and memories with loved ones. During these times, I typically leave an extra hour or two earlier. In my recent experience, I traveled during Labor Day weekend and saw a dramatic and exponential increase to the regular Seattle airport traffic. Not only are holidays already a busy time, it will only get busier and busier. Over the last year, 6 of the top 10 busiest days of travel have been within 2018 (TSA's Top List). All of these days were closely around Independence Day and Memorial Day. This was already on top of last year's record breaking Thanksgiving travel. I cannot imagine what this year's Thanksgiving and Christmas season will look like for airports around the country. So if it is one of the top 6 American holiday seasons (New Year's, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas), I schedule an extra hour or two to my pre-flight arrival.
Every location has peak times of travel. Seattle summers are absolutely gorgeous, so when your scheduling your trips to Seattle in June, July, and August remember to show up a bit earlier to the airport. That's true for all major tourist areas. For every area that I go to visit, I look to see when they're peak season of travel is. If it falls within that time period, I leave an extra 30 minutes earlier.
Going to a country requires you to go through customs, so I always leave an extra 2 hours early (between 4-5 hours before the flight takes off). 9/11 changed the scrutiny of security all around the world. When going internationally, you typically have to check more baggage, go through more security checks, present your passport/visa, and fill out extra paperwork. This is the best case scenario. If there are any complications with your paperwork, bags, tickets, or any number of things that could go wrong, you will be trapped standing with TSA Agents for a good amount of time. (And, while they are concerned about you catching your flight, they are more concerned for the safety of everyone, so they are not afraid of you being late to your flight.) If you arrive too early, what's the worst case scenario? You are just REALLY, REALLY early to your flight. You can grab some food and beverages before your long flight and take some nice airport instagram photos for all your friends. This saves you from missing your very expensive international flight.
Airport security scrutinizes a lot! You cannot bring liquids that exceed 3 oz; you cannot bring tweezers in your carry-on baggage; and, for those firework fanatics, you'll have to leave those at home too :-). In addition to all fo this, they will also make you remove your shoes, belts, jackets, bobby-pins, and certain jewelry. You get made up before your flight only to strip it all off in the airport. This adds extra time onto your airport journey. That is why I dress in a minimalistic manner. I never want to take off any clothes at the airport because 1) it adds time and 2) it's just such a hassle. My typical airport uniform is a pair of slip on shoes (depending on the look I'm going for, I have anything from the class tennis shoe to a more dressed up loafer), sweat pants or jeans that do not require a belt, a long sleeve t-shirt or button down shirt (I get a little chilly on planes, so I wear something that covers my arms), and (if it's especially cold outside or a long flight where I know I'll be sleeping) a cardigan that I can throw in my carry-on bag. Because of the simplicity of this routine, I not only have a greater ability to dress comfortably, I can also get through airport security in a breeze.
Organize Your Documents
Another thing that adds time is not having all of your documents ready. People walking through the lines, only to show up in front of the TSA Agent having to fumble through their bags to find their ticket, license, and passport. I have been in that place where I stick all my paperwork into some part of my bag only to forget which of the 28 pockets in my bag I stuck it in. I then freak out as people stare a hole in the back of my head. Sweating I look through the 27 other pockets with no luck and the very last pocket that I check ends up having my ticket. Finally, I found it! I give them my ticket and then they ask for my license ... flustered, I fumble once again to figure out where my license is at (duh! It's in my wallet). Because of this, I have developed a routine to organize my documents so I never have to riffle through my bag and waste everyone's time in the line. I always carry all of my documents in my hand until after the security checkpoint. No forgetting where my ticket is; no forgetting where I keep my license, no eye daggers from strangers at the airport; it seems like a win-win for me.
Wrapping It Up:
Airport lines will only continue to get longer and more complicated as time goes on. If you practice these three tips every time you travel then you'll stop stressing about whether you'll miss your flight. These are simple routines, but when you put them into practice, you'll be reassured that you'll catch your flight with time to spare--especially if everyone starts to practice these simple tips.
I'm wondering, do you have any other tips and tricks to help you get through airport security? Share in the comments below.