How Travel Agents Work

You’ve decided to hire a travel agent! In my very biased opinion, it’s one of the best things you can do for your travel plans - especially during a global pandemic!

I’ve spoken at length about the reasons to hire a travel agent in my post The Truth about Travel Agents but after 2020, I’m even more convinced that we add tremendous value to your trip, and not just in savings. In March 2020, I was up at all hours following the news and making sure my clients were safe. Thanks to our secret insider information, my colleagues at Brownell Travel knew 24 hours ahead of time when the borders were scheduled to shut, which allowed us to get our clients out in time. Not every travel agency received the heads up and it emphasized the power of personal and professional connections more than ever!

If you’ve never worked with a travel agent before, this post will demystify the process and hopefully, ease your hesitations about hiring an agent. 

How does the planning process work?

Each travel agent has their own unique process so you will need to ask questions during your exploratory call. For me, I start with a call to get to know each other, learn your personality, ask qualifying questions, and identify if my agency is the right fit. Budget, length of travel, style, previous travel, personality and hobbies are all part of the initial discussion. 

If we leave the call feeling excited and energized about working together, we move forward with next steps. I’ll ask for all relevant travel information like copies of passports, frequent flier programs, any other important personal health information that affects your travel  (mobility, allergies, etc.), and your favorite drink or snack for your special welcome amenity. 

Then, the fun starts! The way we plan the trip is entirely customized to you. If you absolutely love doing your own research, we can do a mix of what you find and what I recommend. Most clients usually have me narrow down the best options so they can pick from a limited, vetted number of hotel and activities. 

We  come up with an itinerary outline of what makes the most sense for transportation, length of stay, and must see locations. Once each location is finalized, I provide a curated a list of best hotels for you to choose from.

Then, we move on to booking flights and activities. 

The planning process can take as little as 3 weeks to as long as 6 months - it’s entirely up to you!

How do travel agents book flights?

There are several ways I work with my clients to book flights. If you are planning on using credit card points, I can refer you to a company that specializes in maximizing your points while also providing you customer service or you can book them on your own. 

It makes sense for your travel agent to take over your flight reservations because we can make sure that all the dates  line up with the rest of your plans. I’ve had clients book their own flights just to find out that they picked the wrong date and it can be a costly mistake!

Other reasons to allow your travel agent to book your air include customer service and extra savings. We have access to contracted unpublished rates so this means I’ve saved my clients anywhere from $600 to $1,000 on both economy and business class tickets. 

The other harsh truth? Airlines rarely have your back. When you book an air ticket through me, I’m also providing 24/7 support, assistance with re-booking a flight if you miss a connection and making sure you are covered for flight changes during emergencies. 

The extra service can cost $60 to $100 per airline ticket but it is worth the peace of mind! 

Airline tickets are paid upfront at the time of booking and the airline rules apply. I recommend booking flights at least 3 months before travel for the best pricing and track flight prices with the app Hopper. 

How do travel agents choose guides and activities?

You can think of travel agents as having a little black book of all the best tour guides in every city in the world. We know exactly who to call based on your interests and personality. 

The guides are subjected to a thorough vetting process and usually have advanced degrees or certifications in their field of expertise. Guides are also selected by their audience specialty. Some are fantastic with coming up with engaging stories for kids on the spot and some are meticulous about answering every question or double as a photographer for taking photos for your Instagram. 

The more you let me know about your expectations for your tour guide, the more I can match you with the right fit. 

As for activities, I always recommend clients think about what types of stories they would like to tell about their trip when they get home. For example, do you want to tell your friends about the fantastic little winery you went to where you spent the day indulging in taste testings or do you want to describe the way you felt while flying over the world in a hot air balloon? While it’s possible to push yourself out of your comfort zone while you travel, most people like to be pushed just a little and mainly stick to what they love to do at home. 

The more specific your interests, the easier it is to recommend the right activities for you!

How are travel agents paid?

I have a lot of opinions on how travel agents should be paid but for now, the bulk of a travel agent’s income comes from commissions through the hotels and tour companies. The commission ranges from 10-15% of your trip and agents are paid MONTHS after you travel. If you do not travel, travel agents are not paid. 

Travel agents are highly skilled professionals and often spend hours doing their own research, training, and networking so some have started to charge their own fees to cover their time. It is structured  like how you would pay for any other skilled professional. Fees vary - some agents charge an hourly fee, some charge a fee per day of travel.

I have a flat fee of $250 per 10 days of travel but do not charge a fee if there is no research involved. It varies based on the complexity of the trip.  

What else can travel agents do?

Once you’ve finalized your travel itinerary, travel agents can also provide concierge services like making spa reservations and recommending the best restaurants nearby. We also have access to special services like Flytographer where you can hire a photographer to take photos of your trip. 

Finally, we put all the details and pieces together in an app or a physical document for you to bring with you on your trip.

In short, travel agents do so much for you. The planning process is fun, easy, and customized to you!

Have I convinced you to use an agent for your next trip? For more business behind the scenes and travel tips, follow @marisadesalviotravel on Instagram or get in touch to plan your next trip below.