CWT-Viking Travel in Thiensville WI writes :
I'm up at 4.30am this morning, so as to keep up on things. Although I've
been a travel agent for 32 years, I'm still enjoying it and still finding new
ways to help my clients. You forgot a few things in your "good things
about agents list" :
- We can VOID
- We keep track of
what "unused" nonrefundable tickets are in our safe....keep it in each
traveler's profile and remind them
- Tell them when
there's only a $10-$50 difference between a no penalty ticket, vs. quoting
them just "the lowest fare" ... why would someone want to buy a nonrefundable
ticket for $800 (and maybe, or maybe not be able to apply it later...almost
always nonrefundable to nonrefundable-remember!) when they could have a fully
refundable ticket for $825.00 ????
- And ... we'll
look at ORD/MDW vs. MKE in our case
David replies :
Just to explain some of what Jill says : Many travel agents can void a
ticket a day or two or three after they have issued it. Airlines will
never do that - once you've bought the ticket, it is yours! And her point
about looking at multiple airports is that sometimes it is cheaper to fly into a
nearby airport than the airport you first specify - as a local agent, she is
much more familiar with such things and more willing to help than an airline
reservations agent in a call center, possibly on the other side of the country.
Jetway World Travel in Chicago IL writes : During the September 11
tragedy, I had clients that were scheduled to return from their honeymoon in
Aruba on the 11th. I got them home on the 15th. They called me from
Puerto Rico when their flight got delayed and I was able to work with a Flyaway
Tours rep and get them on the last nonstop out of San Juan. When they
returned home they told me that out of all of the couples stuck in Aruba, only 2
couples got out before the 18th. Both couples had travel agents working in the
States for them. The others got their tickets online. . .and so it goes.
TraveLink Services in Orlando FL writes : Thank you for your article.
As a hard working and now struggling travel agent for almost 20 years, I speak
from the heart when I say I hope your words have touched many of your column's
readers. While the travel industry has shifted dramatically in the past 10
years, I still love my job. And the part I love best is the interaction with my
clients. I know where on the plane they want to sit, special meals, kids. You
name it travel related (and occasionally non-travel related, too!), I know about
it if they have told me.
This industry has
also changed from one whose owners used to lawyer's and doctor's wives and
absent owners looking for all the "perks" of the industry. (We both know they
aren't what they used to be, don't we?). Most of the agencies have culled their
agents to keep only the ones who consider the job a profession not a cheap way
to see the world.
We who work for or
own the independent travel agencies in the United States are struggling right
now to keep those agencies open. When the airlines zeroed commissions for North
American travel agents only (but allowing Afghani or S African, Brazilian or any
other international agency to earn commissions on selling the product), we
rightly were angry. We knew our value. Some of our clients knew our value. Thank
you for pointing out to the readers of your column that we DO have a value in
words they might actually understand!
Dara from Dream
Destinations Travel writes : You ask a good question. How can
the airlines not afford to pay me a measly $20 max, but pay more for their own
reservation agents, etc to sell directly? Plus they then come out with
occasional internet special fares that give them even less money than selling
through travel agencies. Lastly, how can they explain this - they say that
they 'can't afford' to pay US travel agents a commission any more, but they
still pay agencies in Pakistan, the Philippines, China, etc. as much as 9%
commission? As you say, there's another hidden reason why the airlines
want to exclude us - because we are helping their customers to find better
Bob from Mann
Travel & Cruises writes :
HOW TO RUN AN
1) Figure out how
much it actually costs to fly from point A to point B, add a fair profit (and a
margin for travel agent or other 'cost of sales'), and charge that.
2) Depart and land
3) Maintain the
highest levels of security and product maintenance.
4) Be nice to
please re-read #1-4.
Chuck from On
the Go Travel in Quincy, MA writes : The real cost of a travel agent
to the airlines is the 'segment cost' that the travel agents incur when they
book through the traditonal reservation systems (i.e. Sabre, Worldspan, etc.), a
monster that the major carriers created for their own enrichment.
If I were to
predict an outcome to this zero-commission policy, I would have to say
that it will mark the end of the large CRS systems. I would bet that the
major chain agencies will be offered web-based direct booking sources by
the airlines in an attempt bypass the traditional, costly method now in
On another note, I
would like to see an article on the role of ARC (Airline Reporting Corporation)
in the airline industry. This seems to be the vehicle through which "competitive
entities" are able to share information. I maintain that if ARC did not exist,
that competition and fair play would return to the industry.
David replies :
Just to explain some of what Chuck says : When a travel agent books a
ticket for you, the computer system they use charges the airline as much as $3
per flight - on a typical roundtrip with change of plane, this could be $12.
The computer system charges more for changing reservations and even potentially
for canceling them, too; so the total cost to the airline could be $20 or more
for a typical itinerary. Of course the airlines are keen to save this cost
- but the computer reservation systems were all created by the airlines in the
Topanga, CA writes : Thank you for your column. I have the most
wonderful travel agent, who has indeed saved me thousands upon thousands of
dollars, maybe even tens of thousands, over the years, and who does all the
things you mention and more - getting advance-purchase waivers, hidden-city
fares, voiding tickets to avoid penalties, etc. I am just so damned angry that
the airlines get away with this kind of price-fixing (getting together to draw
straws and saying - "OK, Delta, You go first so it doesn't look like we
conspired on this") and that the travel agencies as a group are too weak to do
anything about it. I mean, if they had all gone "on strike" when Delta started
this two years ago for sure the airlines could not have handled picking up all
the slack. So naturally they wait until they have enough people trained to use
the internet that they think they can get away with it. (Notice that they have
not dropped commissions in other parts of the world where there are fewer
consumers on line.)
I suppose it is a
fait accompli - but is there really nothing that agents can do to fight back?
David replies :
The idea of a travel agent strike was discussed among some agents. Guess
what happened? It appears it is illegal for travel agents to do such a
thing!!! The airlines have monopoly exemption, enabling them to act
together on pricing issues, but travel agencies are prohibited from acting
together to try and then respond! Is that fair? No! But guess,
also, who has the bigger lobbying budget on Capitol Hill?
Jo from Odyssey
Travel in Skipjack, PA writes : Your article is the first one I've
read that tells the absolute TRUTH about why the airlines have eliminated
commissions to agents. Thank you very much for a well-written article.
Are you aware that
overseas agents are still being paid by the US carriers, while American
taxpaying agents are not? The taxpayer funds to 'bail out' the airlines
are now being sent off-shore to pay commissions to foreign agencies -
imagine an agency owned by bin Laden making a profit when Americans do not!
Aren't the US carriers now potentially aiding terrorist nations? Ironic,
somewhere on the Internet writes : You write that ARTA is the best
travel agent group, but I understand that Virtuoso - accepting only 1% of agents
- is the best. Is ARTA an overseas-based group. In the U.S., ASTA is the main
David replies :
I've never heard of Virtuoso but from searching the web, discover that it is an
agency consortium or buying group or even just travel agency with branches.
It is not an agency association. The fact that I've never heard of
Virtuoso does rather argue against its value!
ASTA is the largest
travel agency group in the US. But since when does 'bigger' mean 'better'?
It sure doesn't in airline terms! :) I was a member of ASTA for
almost eleven years, paying them many thousands of dollars in membership fees,
and got almost nothing back in return; indeed, the one time I had a bona fide
issue that I needed their help with, they ran for cover and refused to help, for
fear of upsetting and angering an airline!!! Joe Brancatelli accurately
described them in his last week's column as 'inept'. On the other hand,
ARTA provides a wealth of membership support services - including even a daily
email to its members, something that much larger ASTA completely fails to do (as
far as I am aware).
ARTA is smaller but
also much more aggressive in servicing its members and helping its travel agency
members to do a better job, in turn, of protecting their clients' rights.
While it probably doesn't make a huge amount of difference to ordinary travelers
whether their agency belongs to ASTA or ARTA or neither (or both!), I do urge
travel agencies that read this to consider joining ARTA.
somewhere on the internet writes : Great article. I , for one, will not
travel with an airline that does not pay commissions to agents. The
taxpayers gave the airlines a bail out and the airlines turn around and bail out
on travel agents. Now that travel is picking up again the airlines can
hire back but travel agents are unemployed.
David replies :
Donna raises a good point - many of the smaller (and better!) carriers and most
of the foreign carriers continue to pay agency commissions. If it is not
too inconvenient, it would be nice to 'reward good behavior' by choosing to fly
on carriers that are not afraid to sell through agencies.
AOL-land writes : I believe you are right about the reasons the
airlines want travel agencies out of their way. It is not about
distribution cost but about disinforming the customer.
Also it is about
monopolizing the market place and forcing smaller airlines to merge with them to
survive. The agent is the key and the hope to customer service and smaller
airlines trying to compete. That is the big story behind all of this. If the big
airlines control the distribution system then they will make the new rules.
David replies :
Yes, that is an extremely good point. Until recently, travel agencies sold
as much as 90% of all airline tickets in the US (it is now down to about 70% and
steadily dropping). Any new airline could immediately become distributed
through the travel agency network and get instant and equal, fair, access to 90%
of all potential travelers.
If travel agents
become less and less the main distribution system for airline tickets, then it
gets harder and harder for new startup airlines to market their product.
It is more than just a coincidence that the airlines that are doing all they can
to support travel agencies are the smaller carriers, that are desperate to
preserve this key 'equal access' opportunity for them and their (generally
better and cheaper) services.
Uniglobe Vineyard Travel in Escondido, CA, writes : Your list of
services was admittedly limited to air related services. May I give
another example that potentially could apply to both air and other travel
As you well know,
both Renaissance Cruises and Delta Queen (including American Hawaii and Patriot
Cruises) filed for bankruptcy. For my agency, it meant about $175,000 loss
in sales and about $17,000 in commissions. Due to our efforts, our clients, with
only one exception, lost nothing! (The client who lost his fully paid cruise on
Delta Queen refused to pay with a credit card, nor would he buy
The story does not
stop there. We contacted the insurance company and got them to agree to extend
the coverage on the Renaissance cruises to a future trip, within one year of the
original date of the sailing. So our clients did not even lose their insurance
dollars. One of the provisions of the extensions was that they had to book by
the date of the original travel date or notify the insurance company of their
intended date of travel.
Today I sent our
reminders to all of those who have not yet booked that they must do so shortly
or at least contact us with an estimated date of travel to protect their
coverage so we can advise the insurance company. Can you imagine an internet
company doing this or even having the capability of doing this? I can't.
Rhona in Montreal writes : I think your column is fabulous and true
and to the point, except at the end "Different Types of Travel Agents".
There are a lot of agents that specialize in only certain types of travel,
agreed, but we, at my agency, are "perfect" travel consultants in ALL
categories! So there really are some perfect agents out there.
David replies :As a
travel agent for ten years myself, I'm really hesitant to believe that a single
agent can specialize in all categories. For example, let me ask these questions
of you, all of which I've been asked myself (and not all of which I could
successfully answer!) :
- When did
you last fly Concorde (before or after the current or previous cabin
- How about
the business class sleeper seats on BA? Have you tried those?
- When were
you last on the Great Wall in China? What is the best time of year to do
this and why? Which section of the wall do you recommend visiting?
- Have you
been on the Skyrail ride up to Kuranda, and which is the best tour
combination to take this on? What do you think about the risk of Dengue
Fever in Cairns, Australia?
- Have you
done the Sound of Music tour in Saltzburg? Which company would you
recommend for this tour and why?
- Have you
taken the overnight train between Moscow and St Petersburg? Which of the
several different train choices would you recommend?
- When were
you last on QE2 (before or after the latest refurb)? What cabin category
do you recommend for someone wanting a high quality experience?
should a person stay on Mykonos, how should they get there, what should
they do on the island, and when is the best time of year to go?
My point is simply
this : Increasingly, the only thing that travel agents can sell to distinguish
themselves from ever more helpful and interactive websites is personal
experience and personal first hand knowledge. And, in order to get that
experience, you have to visit the places you're selling. And there is the catch
- if you're to be an expert on everything - all 200+ countries in the world -
you'll be spending the entire year on fams and will have no time left to be in
the agency and selling!
Tambra's Travel in Minnetonka, MN, writes : Currently, most of the
general public does not understand why they must pay a 'professional fee' if
they book with a travel agent, however, if they book their travel via the
internet they are still paying a 'fee' by spending at least two hours searching
when all they have to do is call an agent and get ALL of their options in 10
What do you think?.
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Copyright 2002 by David M