Last week I talked about how to work with me, and realized I forgot something rather important... how do travel agencies get paid. Perhaps I really didn't forget, it may have been an avoidance issue. :) It is a divisive issue in my industry, so I try to live and let live, but I think the division has created a bit of a mystery filled fog around travel agents that needs to have some sun shine in, via answers. I will cover the 'camps' and pros and cons, from the consumer side, of each.
There are a couple of 'camps" on this issue in the industry...
Let's begin with the "old school" camp. These agencies are anti-fee. They are paid a commission by the supplier they use and that is 100% of their income - period. This is an oversimplification of the process, because there are overrides, bonuses etc., but essentially the supplier pays the agency a percentage of the sale and the agency pays the agent that assisted you with your trip.
Pro: You are not paying more than you can find it yourself if you wanted to scour the interwebs for hours. In fact, often you pay less, and occasionally receive added benefits through the agency.
Con: You may be funneled through a particular supplier, because of commission levels, even if it is not the best value for you. I tend to have my rose colored glasses on with this potential issue, and choose to believe most agents will do what is right for the client. But I would be remiss if I did not mention this possibility.
Plan to go fee: These agencies/agents charge a upfront fee to work with you. The caveat is that the fee will be returned to you at some point of the process. Many apply it to the final payment, others return it once you travel.
Pro: You should have the full attention of the agent, you have provided a payment, in advance, that says, "I am serious about this trip, please work with me on it."
Con: In my opinion, this is a cumbersome way to do business. Remember, when I said "at some point of the process" ... well there is the rub for me... if the agent applies the payment to final payment, and you must cancel, the agent just worked for free... something I am certain you would not want; however, if the agent waits until their commission is received to reimburse you, it can (believe me) be many months for some hotels to pay commissions.
The BIGGEST issue I have with this style of fee: if you pay the agent money that will go toward the trip - you just paid a deposit in the eyes of trip insurance. SO - if you are working for a month or two (it can happen) with the agent to hammer out the perfect trip, your deposit date for insurance purposes is the day you wrote that check, or put that plastic down...leaving you unable to obtain a lot of the benefits from insurance because you contracted with the insurance company after their date of deposit cut-off.
Service Fee: These agencies/agents charge a fee per trip, no matter what. And you are not getting it back, even if you do not travel. They see their time and expertise as a valuable resource for which they should receive remuneration, over and above any vendor compensation.
Pro: These people tend to (read should) have YEARS of experience, and do not mind coloring outside of the box. They will book you through the avenue that is best for you, and tend to not be vendor loyal. After all, they are being compensated for their time by you.
Con: Note the word tend above... you may be working with an inexperienced person, or one that sees the fee as a way to increase their commission, not as a way to be compensated for those times they receive little, or no, commission.
Hybrid: These agencies/agents may choose to charge fees for some things, and not for others. For Instance, I book my share of groups and destination weddings and charge an up front, non-refundable fee for groups over 20 people. Why? Because as much joy as I derive from them, they are a LOT of work... and the commission alone will not compensate me for my time. I know this because I have done them without the fee, and learned my lesson. I also give the option to travel with a group over 20 people, and always travel with groups of 30, or more to ensure things go smoothly on the ground.
Pro: You can be fairly confident if an agency/agent is comfortable enough to charge fees on certain types of travel, and not others - they have been around the block and you will be in good hands.
Con: See fairly above...
I think you can see I am in the hybrid camp. For most of the trips I have planned over the years, "it all comes out in the wash" (if you have worked with me you know I say this - a lot - LOL). I may spend more time on this trip, but the next one pays more commission for less work.... the universe always finds it way back to center, in my experience. So, I suppose the best piece of advice I can give you is - if you are interviewing travel agents (and you SHOULD feel free to do so, no one fits everyone) ask them how they get paid... they should appreciate the question, and that you care enough to ensure they are being compensated for their time.
I suppose this could be titled "How to work with me" but that would be boring, and I think most agents will agree with the crux of this musing.
When I take on a client, I ask a few basic questions that can seem strange, but it gives me a very clear picture of your likes, and your preferences... this is turn helps me assure your trip is tailored to you. So I suppose the most important thing you can do for any agent: answer their questions openly and honestly - there is no wrong answer.... it is your trip, not theirs. :)
If you are traveling as a group of friends/family take the time to sit with your travel partners before contacting the agent, and figure out who is the point person. Please don't have everyone in the group go to different agents for quotes; agents get paid when people book with them, not when they are doing research, so it is unfair to the agent(s) you don't use.
While you are sitting with the travel partner(s)... write down exactly what is important for everyone to accomplish on this trip. This will allow the agent to tailor trips within the trip if necessary, and no one will have to feel as if they settled.
Does anyone have allergies, or special needs? THIS is crucial info to have at the beginning of the process... I will ask, but some do not. Make sure they have the information, it will only benefit you in the long run.
Have all of your information available - birth dates, legal names (James not Jim comes to mind) on that first call/visit. I send out a secure form to gather the information, but not all agents do. I also ask for the photo pages of your passports if you are headed out of the US, so go ahead and snap a picture of that for me, please. I ask for this for a couple of reasons.... 1) I can check spelling of names, dates of births, and passport validity (many countries require your passport to be valid for 6 months from your RETURN date) and 2) should something happen to your passport while traveling you will have someone that can email, or fax a copy to the Embassy/Consulate.
Tell us what your perfect trip would be... take up our time, paint us a picture... make sure we hear you and when we send you that first itinerary, it should be very close to your ideal, unless we have communicated an issue. And just in case it is not, tell us! Change things, ask questions, change your mind... it is perfectly OK in the planning stages to do so. Once it is booked, it can sometimes be problematic... but not in the planning stages. Planning is where we take your abstract dreams and turn them into a reality.
Really, it is that simple. Never apologize for demanding quality from an agent, and they shouldn't apologize to a vendor for demanding that for you.
So if you ever thought an agent was going to cramp your style... just remember not everyone is for everyone... keep looking if you have to, but make sure you travel with an agent, because we will be there before during and after the trip.
Speaking of after the trip, PLEASE tell your agent about your trip. Personally, I ask my clients to tell me the good, the not so good and ESPECIALLY the ugly if there was any. I WANT to know, I NEED to know. We cannot stay at every hotel, or take every tour, but we can ensure you have reputable providers and are taken care of. If the quality of what we are recommending lapses, we need to know this and adjust as needed. And Share pictures with us, let us know if we can post them online... we LOVE doing this!
Last, but far from least, if you enjoyed your trip... tell people about the agent, if you didn't - tell the agent in honest terms what they could have done differently, if anything to make it your dream trip.
So go on over to the forms and fill out a trip request... :) I would love to make your dreams a reality.
From the Taj Mahal to Bollywood to the tropical beaches and array of wildlife, you can be certain that your trip to India will be colorful, amazing and, above all, memorable. Whether you're seeking a spiritual, culinary or cultural journey, India will wow you with its mosaic of religions, languages, climates, cuisines, architecture and culture.
Whispers of historic trade routes and vast empires still echo in the streets and mingle with the modern hum of industrialization. In India, it's no surprise to find ancient treasures blending with the contemporary. There's endless opportunity to have authentic experiences with all the spectacular finds and lesser-known gems sprinkled throughout this great country.
A profusion of character unveils itself around every corner in Delhi, with Mughal minarets and British colonial structures reaching toward the sky and the bustle of the new city surrounding the walled city of the old. A traditional bazaar's striking colors and intoxicating scents entice, revealing discoveries like handmade footwear, elaborate woodcarvings, glowing gems and brilliant fabrics. The Jama Masjid mosque towers over the walls of Old Delhi and casts its cooling shadow on passersby, while the spice market of Khari Baoli provides an energetic reprieve and a chance to purchase some authentic Indian spices to complement dinner. A visit to India is a revelation of the old and new, where every turn surprises. In the lively streets of Varanasi, southeast of Delhi, rickshaws twist around with their passengers, stopping often by the banks of the Ganges River. Riverboats sail past as Hindu worshippers take part in the sunset aarti ceremony and pray for the river with jingling bells and chanted songs. We can suggest the perfect river cruise for an immersive experience.
North of Varanasi, in Agra, the Crown of Palaces the Taj Mahal stands in silence in the fading Indian light. This jewel of Muslim art is a testament to the enduring love and devotion of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Imagine walking through intricate archways leading into the innovative tribute, whose sparkling white marble outshines the usual red sandstone and sings of Shah Jahans prolific love for his beloved wife. The enchantment of Indias romance opens its arms to you. Just a few hours drive from Agra, in the lush grasses of Ranthambore National Park, Indian gazelles chinkara step through the forest, their gentle rustling adding to the jungles soothing lullaby. For the best views of the park, arrive as dawn breaks while the Indian sun warms Ranthambore, and the morning light illuminates the park's majestic 10th-century fort stretching 700 feet above the surrounding plain.
The exotic treasures found in India are never-ending. In the famed Pink City of Jaipur, rose-hued sandstone buildings glisten, leading up to the Hawa Mahal, which mirrors the crown of the Hindu god Krishna. High on a hill outside Jaipur stands the tremendous Amber Fort housing opulent courtyards, lavish halls and the twinkling Jai Mandir, also known as the Mirror Palace Nearby in the Nahargarh Reserve, local tribal guides lead you on the backs of elephants to the middle of the forest, where we can arrange to have a private dinner waiting. With its rich history and culture, India's secrets unfold on every adventure, and we have the insider access and expertise to create your perfect journey.
Travel with Mershawn Resaca, GA 30735