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Becoming an independent travel agent?

Becoming an independent travel agent?

Old Jan 20, 14, 11:33 am
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Becoming an independent travel agent?

Not sure if I'm posting this in the right area (Mods, feel free to move if you think it will be better served in another area of the site):

I book a lot of trips for friends and family. It used to be I'd help a friend here and there....but I'm getting busier. I'd say I'm helping someone book a trip 4 times a month, maybe more, maybe less. In the past month, I've found myself booking large, multi-leg, multi-destination trips at top tier hotels (Park Hyatts, InterContinentals, St. Regis, TPAC and TATL biz elite flights, etc).

From what I understand, unless you know the right people or have tons of clients, margins are low and its hard to make a doable salary on being a "Travel agent"...

I'm less looking for a new career, more looking for perks/benefits of booking all these trips. If it ends up turning into a new career (I'm a lawyer now), fine. If not, I'm happy with this just being my hobby.

I know a few travel agents (not close enough where I feel like I can fire off questions), and from what I understand they: (a) get perks when they book for others...i.e., free breakfast, a massage thrown in...basically: packages; (b) "cheaper" rates, or if not cheaper--as described above--perks included; (c) 1-800 numbers and/or websites where they get "inside" rates/information/contacts...yada yada yada.

Any advice how to become an independent travel agent, to where I'm not going through the same motions as everyone else? If at the end of the day, both my client and I have to go through kayak.com (as an example)...there's really nothing separating me being proactive from my lazy "client"...

I know Virtuoso is the big agency in the US. How does one get involved?

Thoughts?

EDIT: looking for some sort of hotel commission, too!
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Last edited by pricesquire; Jan 20, 14 at 11:47 am
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Old Jan 20, 14, 12:11 pm
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Originally Posted by pricesquire View Post
I'm less looking for a new career, more looking for perks/benefits of booking all these trips... I know a few travel agents (not close enough where I feel like I can fire off questions), and from what I understand they: (a) get perks when they book for others...i.e., free breakfast, a massage thrown in...basically: packages; (b) "cheaper" rates, or if not cheaper--as described above--perks included; (c) 1-800 numbers and/or websites where they get "inside" rates/information/contacts...yada yada yada.
I would say that is exactly the wrong attitude to bring to any service profession -- e.g. "I'm in it to aggrandize myself." If you can't work first and foremost in the best interests of your clients, you (A) shouldn't get into the game and (B) will be exposed pretty quickly if you do.

Originally Posted by pricesquire
Any advice how to become an independent travel agent, to where I'm not going through the same motions as everyone else? ...

I know Virtuoso is the big agency in the US. How does one get involved?
Virtuoso is NOT. Virtuoso is a boutique high-end provider / concierge that creates specialized itineraries. That's like saying Tesla is "the big automaker in the US." It sounds as if you ought to do some basic primary research and find out about Liberty Travel, Carlson Wagonlit, American Express, H.I.S., Uniglobe, Colpitts, USTravel, AAA, and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Here's a list of the top agencies by 2013 sales:

http://www.travelweekly.com/Travel-N...13-Power-List/

Virtuoso's not even on the list.

You might also like to get hold of ASTA, the American Society of Travel Agents, what's left of them:

http://www.asta.org/

Originally Posted by pricesquire
Thoughts?
Don't do it. If all you know about the profession is that you're pretty good at Kayaking and perhaps you could get paid for it, and take free cruises too, you are not a candidate. As I'm sure you know the travel agent profession has been decimated by Internet-enabled small-d democratization of information and technology. The few that are left in business are (A) extremely knowledgeable about destinations, travel logistics, local hassles, etc. and (B) extremely selfless when it comes to taking care of their clients -- answering their phone at 400am because somebody is having a visa problem in Bangalore. You have to commit yourself to acquiring and using a level of knowledge not available on the Internet.

Originally Posted by pricesquire
EDIT: looking for some sort of hotel commission, too!
Back in the 1980s and earlier, there were an awful lot of independent TAs who chose their profession because of all the free stuff they expected to score in the margins. You know what they're doing today? Something else. Which is fine with me. Before the Internet took over I grew weary of explaining to bubblehead TAs that LHR and LGW are not the same airport, or that 727s don't fly TATL and airlines often assign one flight number to two discrete sectors/aircraft, etc. It didn't take much time and study for me to know more about everyday travel than most of the people who were booking for me.

A great TA today is an invaluable resource, mostly for scoring cruise discounts, finding private guides in remote areas, fixing snafus while a trip is in progress, etc. But if I discover that a TA is more interested in her perks than my problems -- game over.
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Old Jan 20, 14, 12:26 pm
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Originally Posted by BearX220 View Post
I would say that is exactly the wrong attitude to bring to any service profession -- e.g. "I'm in it to aggrandize myself." If you can't work first and foremost in the best interests of your clients, you (A) shouldn't get into the game and (B) will be exposed pretty quickly if you do.



Virtuoso is NOT. Virtuoso is a boutique high-end provider / concierge that creates specialized itineraries. That's like saying Tesla is "the big automaker in the US." It sounds as if you ought to do some basic primary research and find out about Liberty Travel, Carlson Wagonlit, American Express, H.I.S., Uniglobe, Colpitts, USTravel, AAA, and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Here's a list of the top agencies by 2013 sales:

http://www.travelweekly.com/Travel-N...13-Power-List/

Virtuoso's not even on the list.

You might also like to get hold of ASTA, the American Society of Travel Agents, what's left of them:

http://www.asta.org/



Don't do it. If all you know about the profession is that you're pretty good at Kayaking and perhaps you could get paid for it, and take free cruises too, you are not a candidate. As I'm sure you know the travel agent profession has been decimated by Internet-enabled small-d democratization of information and technology. The few that are left in business are (A) extremely knowledgeable about destinations, travel logistics, local hassles, etc. and (B) extremely selfless when it comes to taking care of their clients -- answering their phone at 400am because somebody is having a visa problem in Bangalore. You have to commit yourself to acquiring and using a level of knowledge not available on the Internet.



Back in the 1980s and earlier, there were an awful lot of independent TAs who chose their profession because of all the free stuff they expected to score in the margins. You know what they're doing today? Something else. Which is fine with me. Before the Internet took over I grew weary of explaining to bubblehead TAs that LHR and LGW are not the same airport, or that 727s don't fly TATL and airlines often assign one flight number to two discrete sectors/aircraft, etc. It didn't take much time and study for me to know more about everyday travel than most of the people who were booking for me.

A great TA today is an invaluable resource, mostly for scoring cruise discounts, finding private guides in remote areas, fixing snafus while a trip is in progress, etc. But if I discover that a TA is more interested in her perks than my problems -- game over.
Either I wasn't clear enough in my question, or you misunderstood what I was asking.

I am NOT looking for personal perks. This isn't about me getting free X Y or Z. I'm wondering more: since I'm sending 2 people TATL biz class, staying in expensive places, how do I get them perks that aren't published. If all I'm doing is acting as their booking agent, using the exact methods they could be using if they weren't lazy, then there's no point.

As stated above, it's not about aggrandizing myself. It's about using access to give my "clients" a better trip. And yes, I expect to make some money in the process. If I'm booking someone on a $30,000 trip, and they got the whole thing for $450 in taxes/fees, then yes, I expect to charge them for that service (giving them advice Re: credit cards, conceptualizing a trip, booking a trip, sending them off).

If another client is paying cash, and they are using me to do all the leg-work, yes, I expect to make a nominal fee. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

I mention Virtuoso because, on FT specifically, I've been contacted numerous times by PM Re: booking a rate with perks (i.e., "hey, I can book the same rate you're looking at this SPG property, plus free breakfast and a massage"). I also mention Virtuoso because the travel agencies I've seen in my area are associated with them, and because I've heard (anecdotal, I know) extremely good feedback.

Lastly, Virtuoso is exactly what I'm doing: high-end, boutique style itineraries. Again, all I asked was: how do I get more for my clients (booking codes? special 800 numbers? websites? licensing?)

I asked what someones thoughts were on the above, and you said "don't do it"...why wouldn't I try to get more perks for a client? That's not aggrandizing, at all. That's doing exactly what a "good TA" (by your own definition) does!

What I'm looking to do is exactly what you describe: (A) extremely knowledgeable about destinations, travel logistics, local hassles, etc. and (B) extremely selfless when it comes to taking care of their clients.

Just last week I booked 2 people on a multi-city trip in China, procured them Visas, booked the whole thing, hooked them up with a reputable guide in both cities (both of which I've had person contact w/ in China), and got them at the Park Hyatt in Beijing and the IC HKG. Again, I ask, is this not dealing w/ destinations, travel logistics, and procuring a boutique/high-end itinerary and service?

Basically, I'm trying to navigate how to go about it.
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Old Jan 20, 14, 7:50 pm
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Some comments, including my own, here...

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trave...ookings-3.html
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Old Jan 21, 14, 3:21 am
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Do you know how to use a GDS? That would be the first thing to do. I think there might be classes or reference material online, or you may be able to take a class at a community college.
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Old Jan 21, 14, 6:53 am
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^Thanks for the above two posts. What about hotel bookings? I get PMs all the time from FTers "let me book your hotel...just a little more but you get free XYZ" I know they're getting commission and/or booking at a lower rate.
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Old Jan 21, 14, 7:03 am
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This existing thread may also help:

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trave...vel-agent.html
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Old Jan 21, 14, 7:43 am
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Thanks. I guess what gets me going is that I just paid around $400 for the Hotel Pulitzer AMS, and I see it's 50% off for travel agents.

More interested in hotel perks and %-off room rates than dealing in airfare rules and routings.
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Old Jan 21, 14, 8:36 am
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Before the Internet took over I grew weary of explaining to bubblehead TAs that LHR and LGW are not the same airport
Ha. We had one who sent a guy to Jackson Hole instead of Jackson Mississippi.

I'd say you have to get a track record before you can negotiate special deals with hotels etc. It's a bit chicken and egg. You build the relationships along with the deals. A good start is to help a start-up place by guaranteeing them some initial business and growing with them, rather than trying to bust into the established places right from the get-go.
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Old Jan 21, 14, 11:39 am
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100% what bear said. Add to that, I don't think you are ever going to make a commission on hotel bookings unless you have an IATA number, which is almost impossible to get these days unless you work for a large agency.

Lazy people looking for a deal is exactly why I do not book travel for friends and family anymore. The few times that I DO book for them, I do it because I enjoy it, not because I am looking for a freebie or to make money.

If you are set on making money, one way would be to insist on being paid by cash or check, and using your own credit card to acquire points. There are also lots of travel agent classes still at community colleges, but imho, they are simply money making schemes, and just give you information you can learn on your own if you have the time and drive to do it.

Also, I don't know of any hotel chain that are going to give just any travel agent 50% off, unless they are a proven agent that is going to drive A LOT of business. More typical is 10-20% off, and non commissionable, so they are getting a discount instead of a commission.
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Old Jan 21, 14, 2:33 pm
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Originally Posted by tatterdema View Post
100% what bear said. Add to that, I don't think you are ever going to make a commission on hotel bookings unless you have an IATA number, which is almost impossible to get these days unless you work for a large agency.
It doesn't have to be a large agency. When I started my travel business in 2001, I earned IATA accreditation but it was not simple. Among the documentation I had to submit were business bank statements - IIRC, I had to show evidence of at least 20K in revenue. They wanted proof of business insurance, industry references... basically, I had to prove that I owned a legitimate travel business (which I do) and not just some scam company to get travel agent discounts, which is as it should be.
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Old Jan 21, 14, 2:57 pm
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Ya, like I said, almost impossible. I think it has gotten even harder since 2001. Like you said too, that is how it should be. Years ago, almost anyone could get one. I thought now you had to book a certain amount of flights first, but I am probably thinking of something else. I looked into it years ago, and it just wasn't worth the effort for the small number of bookings I would do.
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Old Jan 21, 14, 3:07 pm
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Honestly, being a travel agent in a dying industry will not bode well in the long term. For those who travel frequently, if they can save money, they will. Plus airlines have cut or eliminated commissions for TAs in recent years. Cruise ships were paying decent commissions until this past fall. Its tough to make a buck at this industry.

That's assuming perks aside per the above.
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Old Jan 21, 14, 3:28 pm
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Originally Posted by tatterdema View Post
100% what bear said. Add to that, I don't think you are ever going to make a commission on hotel bookings unless you have an IATA number, which is almost impossible to get these days unless you work for a large agency.

Lazy people looking for a deal is exactly why I do not book travel for friends and family anymore. The few times that I DO book for them, I do it because I enjoy it, not because I am looking for a freebie or to make money.

If you are set on making money, one way would be to insist on being paid by cash or check, and using your own credit card to acquire points. There are also lots of travel agent classes still at community colleges, but imho, they are simply money making schemes, and just give you information you can learn on your own if you have the time and drive to do it.

Also, I don't know of any hotel chain that are going to give just any travel agent 50% off, unless they are a proven agent that is going to drive A LOT of business. More typical is 10-20% off, and non commissionable, so they are getting a discount instead of a commission.
I don't think bears analysis was really on point unless the whole point of his response was to: assume I was trying to aggrandize myself or to show me statistics that had no bearing on what I'm trying to do.

My title is a misnomer, I get it! I apologize, but I don't know how to change it. Let me rephrase it:

1) I book hotels/flights for friends/family at 20 - 40 times a year.

2) I was looking to get them unpublished perks (not me!!!!!!)

3) I enjoy doing this, or else I wouldn't do it.

4) I have a law degree. I'm not looking to switch careers, get rich quick, what have you. All I'm trying to do use my skills and knowledge as a traveler (recommending hotels, places to see, guides/hosts, restaurants, itineraries), combined with their requests that I do their bookings.

I guess I'd call it "boutique travel advisor"....I'm getting a lot of flack here, but where I'm from (JAX), not a day goes by where someone doesn't walk up to me at the coffee shop or around town and goes "hey, so and so said you're great at building itineraries and booking trips, can you do it for me?"

Lastly, yes, Hotel Pulitzer AMS gives 50% off for travel agents:

Hotel Discounts offered for Hotel Pulitzer
Group discount
Corporate discount
Government/ Military discount
Travel Agents 50.0%
Airline Personnel 50.0%

http://www.travelweekly.com/Hotels/A...p4026972?acg=1
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Old Jan 21, 14, 3:53 pm
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IATA website seems to have a lot of information.
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