One of the most common hang-ups for people who might want to use a travel consultant (agent = consultant) but don’t, is they think it will cost them more. It is easy to understand why. The billion dollar a year corporations, who own the online booking engines, spend HUGE amounts of money on advertising aimed at convincing you, the consumer, they are the cheapest, best way to travel. It is hard for us local, small businesses to compete but here goes.
The Truth about Online Booking Engines
The first booking engines hit the internet 10+ years ago and there were deals to be had. Hotels and airlines were selling unused inventory at discounted prices. But as with most things, the corperations caught on and started to figure out how to make more money and so the deals have dwindled. Now it is rare to find an actual deal online. Also, if you have not heard, big brother online advertising corporations are now watching your online patterns and targeting you specifically with the price they think you will pay (not a list price or a deal). If you search on an iOS, or have a browser history of looking at the same product, you will be given a higher price then someone else looking at the same product!
Bottom line, you will not pay more by booking with me because I have a direct relationship with the travel vendors. If you buy an iPhone at the Apple store or at Walmart, you pay the same price. The difference is Apple pays Walmart margins on the product for brokering the sale. Travel product commissions work the same way. I am doing the advertising and making the connection between you, the customer, and them, the product supplier, so they pay me a commission. The supplier makes 10% less on the product, not you pay 10% more. They do this because we travel agents bring enough business to them.
The above is how I work but there are other business models in the travel consultant industry. Some agencies have personal relationships with their vendors. For a variety of reasons like they are natives of the area, or they used to work for that tour operator, cruise line or resort, those agencies get a whole sale price from the supplier and then mark up the price to what they think is fair to sell to clients. In this case, everyone I know only marks up to the retail price available to the general public. So again, you are not paying more to use the consultant. Sometimes there is no retail price because the tour operator only works with agents, so you could not even book that particular African Safari or Luxury Italian Villa without using a travel agent.
How I Get Paid for My Value
I charge a trip planning fee. This is upfront and non-refundable. It covers the cost of my time to plan a trip. This cost is the price you pay for having a travel professional, with my connections and experience do all the research, planning, organizing and booking. If you are flying to Omaha, Nebraska for a weekend trip to see your parents it might not make sense to use a travel consultant. If you are taking your family of four plus grandparents and an aunt on an international trip, you will spend hours and hours researching, planning and booking, so it might be worth your money to pay someone else who is more efficient and connected. Here the internet is not your friend because information overload and decision paralysis are for real and remember those not-so-discounted online booking engines. My fee is usually less then 2% of the cost of the trip. When you consider the time and effort savings to my clients and that I do have access to higher value products, the overall value is still equitable.
The agents I know work hard to ensure the price their client is paying is reasonable for the value they are getting (we rely heavily on repeat business and referrals). If I suspect a certain tour operator of marking up prices unfairly, I will not use them. But that knowledge comes from my willingness to research or experience with the products. If you are a bargain hunter and want low quality travel on a shoe string budge then don’t call a travel consultant (see my Who Should Not Use a Travel Consultant post). But if you are looking for the best value with a guaranteed standard of quality then you would be well served by using a travel agent, and you will not pay any more for it.