10 Things I Learned as a Travel Agent

by Melissa on July 14, 2015 · 43 comments

The last fifteen months has been a huge period of learning for me not only personally, but from a professional perspective too.  While it wasn’t always easy, and I’ve decided to step away from that path, it gave me a greater understanding of travel, the travel industry, and how things work – and let me tell you, it’s not always black and white. During my time as an international travel consultant (aka travel agent), I picked up a few tricks of the trade and made some observations that I want to share with you!

  1. Just because you know how to use the Internet doesn’t mean you can do it better yourself.
    Often times when you book through an agent, they have access to private rates or nett rates that you can’t see online. Most airlines like supporting travel agents and big agencies have buying power- hence they are able to get better private rates than those you’re seeing online. While the Internet has made it very easy to book online – there are things that you may not even realize you’re doing wrong.
  2. Many agencies are vying for your business; offering lowest price guarantees, price beats and price matches – why wouldn’t you book with a human? One of my biggest pet peeves was that people would just assume that agencies are more expensive. Some (not all) agencies don’t even charge a booking fee. Since the Internet is the biggest competitor to travel agents- many agencies have policies where they can match or beat any price you’re finding (except perhaps those on auction type sites- or those where you book but don’t know where you’re staying – such as hotwire). Besides, isn’t it nice to be able to know you’ve helped support a human being and not just a massive company- since most travel agent jobs are at least partially (if not fully) commission-based. travelagency
  3. Tripadvisor isn’t the be all and end all – but even agents consult it. Tripadvisor is a great tool – but if you’re reading into every little negative thing that people have to say, you’re not utilizing the site properly. Sure, resorts/ hotels/ restaurants/ etc. sometimes have areas of improvement – but my advice is to not read into the individual reviews too much. Sometimes people are terribly nitpicky and there is simply no pleasing them. My advice, look at the overall satisfaction – if you read a negative comment in a review, seek out a couple more just to ensure that it wasn’t a one-off unhappy customer.
  4. Most agents refuse to book their friends and family. I love you –but if you expect me to cut out my commission just to make the sale, you can book it yourself. This is my job, this is how I pay my mortgage – and while I love you, I’m not going to discount you. Its nothing personal, but if you’re able to reach me outside of business hours – times I won’t be able to really help you – then I likely do not want to have you as a client. (That being said, I did book many of my friends and family and only on very rare occasion ran into issues with people not respecting the work/life balance or the whole discounting thing).
  5. Going to an agent and getting them to put together a fantastic dream trip for you, then taking the quote and booking it yourself online is an absolute asshole move. Don’t do it, it’ll piss them off. pins
  6. To ensure they get the booking, tour companies may be willing to sweeten the deal a little more by sometimes throwing in freebies, or even a small percentage off. This isn’t ALWAYS the case- but worth a shot, especially if you’re going to be doing it anyways. Often times, tour companies and travel agencies have exclusive partnership deals they offer clients- so it could be worth checking out if your travel agent can get a better price.
  7. Book flights well in advance. Flights do not go down in price unless there is a random seat sale and those do not happen as often as you would hope.
  8. Last minute deals are (more often than not) a thing of the past. If I had a dollar for every time someone came to my asking for a last minute deal (some not even caring where they ended up) I would be a rich woman. The last minute deals I’m referring to are typically those having to do with all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. At some point in the last couple years, suppliers realized they were losing more money than it was worth by offering ridiculously cheap sell-off deals, so they stopped offering them. Last-minutes-Cheap-Vacation
  9. When booking please take a look at your passport first. Make sure you know exactly how your name is spelled and what order your names appear on your passport. Most airlines don’t allow complimentary name corrections – so make sure you get it right the first time. Also look at the expiry date, and make sure your passport has sufficient validity. A lot of countries require you to have 3-6 months validity on your passport to even enter. Not having this can result in you being denied boarding in your home country.
  10. Be realistic. It’s all well and good that you want to go to the Maldives and stay in an overwater bungalow for two weeks for your honeymoon but only have a $2000 budget… travel agents are good at finding you great deals- but they’re not miracle workers. Be a little more realistic with your requests, be flexible and willing to negotiate on certain requests if your budget doesn’t meet the reality.

Do you use a travel agent when you book your travels? In the comments below tell me why or why not.  


Like this post?  Read more:

9 Ways to Annoy a Travel Agent

10 Ways to get your Travel Agent to Love You



{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne July 14, 2015 at 5:47 pm

Very informative.
I most often do book with an agent.


Meggie Kay July 14, 2015 at 6:14 pm

I just use a travel agent for the first time. Mostly I move to a country and never felt the need for a travel agen to help with a 3 day weekend trip from Singapore to Thailand. But fitting a flight around a well thought out Fiji week long layover, the help was appreciated. I also got discounts for being under 30. Woo!
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Melissa July 16, 2015 at 11:23 pm

See!!! An added bonus just for being young and pretty! 😛 haha

I’m of the mindset of “if it’s a simple return flight to one destination, then sure, book it online” – but if you’re doing anything else, then why not? It pays to have someone in your corner in case something goes wrong, and at least they know if what you’re planning on doing makes sense, where to send you, added tips for the places you’re going…. etc.

It’s not simply about price… you’re paying for assurance that you get the complete experience on your trip.


Steph | A Nerd at Large July 14, 2015 at 7:48 pm

Great post! Having worked in the travel industry for more than a decade, I have HUGE respect for front-line travel agents. They possess vast amounts of knowledge and expertise that can save customers both time and major headaches. People tend to view agents as middlemen or order takers, but I think it’s more accurate to think of them as a kind of concierge. That said, for point-to-point flights or simple hotel bookings I tend to do the bookings myself directly, but I put more complicated plans in the hands of the professionals. It also helps that in Ontario bookings made with an agent are covered by TICO insurance, so you’re not SOL if an airline goes belly up between booking and departure.
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Melissa July 17, 2015 at 12:08 am

Exactly! You’re paying for assurance! They bring added value.

Even though I’m no longer a travel agent, I have tons of respect and plan on booking my travels (even simple things) through agents.


JM July 15, 2015 at 8:17 am

THANK YOU!! I love being an agent however I always wish I could stress all these points weekly!


Melissa July 17, 2015 at 12:09 am

No problem – I know we’re all thinking it… so at least I put it out there. Maybe those annoying folks will have taken a peek at this so you don’t have to stress it to them 😉


Fom July 15, 2015 at 3:07 pm

I see! That’s for sure when someone works with or as a travel agent he or she must learn much than others as he or she have to guide others! And guiding them is another step of learning.
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Amanda C @ UnrestingSea July 15, 2015 at 5:50 pm

I learned a lot here. I’ve never booked with an agent & always had the perception that it would cost me more with him/her as a middleman. Lately I’ve been considering hiring an agent… my honeymoon is a month away and I’ve been SO BUSY that I haven’t had a chance to book anything myself yet. Yikes!
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Coreen Doucett July 15, 2015 at 11:56 pm

Its never too late. I booked a couple tonight, started looking weeks ago and pries kept increasing. Found a fabulous resort they never expected to afford or love and presto…online at no extra cost. @coreenstravels Coreen Doucett……..passionate about my chosen career..


Melissa July 18, 2015 at 10:40 pm

I’m so glad to hear you’re so happy in your career! While it may not have been for me, I definitely have a love and respect for travel agents and all they do! Keep on doing what you’re doing, Coreen!


Melissa July 18, 2015 at 10:39 pm

I would definitely be sure that you book your honeymoon with an agent. Go to a local agency and find someone who you think is a good fit. I think you will feel a lot happier (and less stressed) if you let someone else do all the research work.

Plus- I would always try to get my honeymooners extra goodies – like a room upgrade or bottle of wine or something. It’s your honeymoon! Go nuts!


Cheryl Jones July 15, 2015 at 10:18 pm

We’ve travelled a fair amount and we’ve been using the same travel agent for years. We love her and we rely on her. I wouldn’t want to make the travel arrangements myself even though I probably could do it online. I like knowing she’s there if we need her. I’m happiest not needing her while we’re travelling but a couple of times we’ve had to call her from somewhere for help and she’s come through for us and helped make our vacations successful.


Melissa July 18, 2015 at 10:42 pm

Exactly! Travel agents are like another level of insurance – you never hope you have to call them while on your trip… but heaven forbid should something go awry, you’re glad you have someone in your corner working for you.

As a former travel agent, I applaud you for your loyalty to your agent, she sounds wonderful! 🙂


Monica July 15, 2015 at 10:43 pm

I love #5! Well said. I am a travel advisor and I am tired of people saying they can get it cheaper, or it is so much easier to do it on their own. Or, “travel agents? Aren’t they extinct?”


Melissa July 18, 2015 at 10:44 pm

Oh man…. I lost out on a couple BIG bookings because these assholes go and undermine me, take my well planned out quotes and go and book themselves. Such a dick move.


Siobhan July 16, 2015 at 3:37 am

It’s actually like I wrote this myself! Couldn’t have said it better my dear! Especially the one about using all my knowledge and expertise, and then booking it online, the biggest asshole move. We call these people ‘time burglars’ or if they’re not immediately obvious and surprise you with their deceit then a ‘time bandit’!!
I’ve been an international travel consultant for 18 months and moving on at the end of the month! It’s certainly been a ‘Journey’ 😉
Good luck outside the travel industry! I know it’s taught me a lot, about the public, travel, and myself!! X


Melissa July 18, 2015 at 10:48 pm

I love that “time burglars”… i just like to call them “assholes”… but I think both work.

I wish you luck in your new endeavours. It’s not an easy industry to be in – I certainly know that first hand- but I completely agree that I’ve learned SO much from my 15months working as a travel agent.

Best of luck! 🙂


Rebecca July 16, 2015 at 3:39 am

I only book with an agent if im traveling overseas that way if i have any questions or concerns i can seek there advice!


Melissa July 18, 2015 at 10:46 pm

That’s fair enough! I don’t think I would necessarily use an agent to get a domestic flight or something simple, but definitely if I’m going somewhere I know nothing about… why wouldn’t you go and get recommendations?


David King July 16, 2015 at 7:27 am

I generally use a travel agent but not Flight Centre as they seem to have a very money first customer second centric policy.


Melissa July 18, 2015 at 10:45 pm

As a former agent, I thank you for using an agent. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about different companies, and it’s important to find someone who you find to be a good fit for your travel style, and someone you get along with and understands you. 🙂


Ruddagah July 16, 2015 at 9:53 am

What a joke of an article and the commentry by travel agents. Navigate the internet correctly and save signifigantly. Travel agents are the blurst


justine July 16, 2015 at 10:10 am

I feel for you as you may have had a negative experience and not seen the benefits of a human being there for you while traveling. People are stranded an Bali right now and have no human ccontact simply because they booked directly or online. Cheapest price doesn’t mean value. Travel agents can bring service and answers where Internet providers can’t. I hope one day you will see the value in having the expertise and security


Melissa July 18, 2015 at 10:50 pm

“Cheapest price doesn’t mean value” – THANK YOU!


Jason July 16, 2015 at 10:40 am

As someone who has worked in travel for 20 years (none of it as a travel agent though) I can say that they are a great resource to use for planning vacations. If you need to book a flight to NYC and back, sure you can do it online. If you are looking for recommendations, flights with stop overs, multiple destination trips, tour packages, all-inclusives, or anything else, they are the way to go! I know how to take out teeth (thanks YouTube!), but I’d rather a dentist do it.


Melissa July 18, 2015 at 10:52 pm

Aw Jason, I love that last comment – “I know how to take out teeth…” it’s really true. And I wish more people would see it that way. Ah well… when shit hits the fan, thats when they usually come in with their tail between their legs and say “I wish I had used an agent.”

Live and learn.


Melissa July 18, 2015 at 10:49 pm

You’re certainly entitled to your own opinion and I hope you never run into any serious issues with your travels. If you can’t see the added value, thats your prerogative… and truly, your loss.


justine July 16, 2015 at 10:06 am

I love this article. It’s so important that Australians support our economy and the income of our citizens. I think people forget that by booking online you are robbing our country growth. Travel agents are going to of course make money being a travel agent but I guess realizing we all are all work to make money and doesn’t matter if you are an agent or cashier you all are being paid for a service. No one works for free and the service they offer can be the make or break of your vacation.. why leave it in the hands of the Internet. I’m a travel agent and hear so many stories of people being stranded and think to myself I could have helped you!!! Helped you enjoy your trip. Relieved you of your stress and still given you the same if not better price. Please remember our main focus is to bring your dream holiday to life.


Melissa July 18, 2015 at 10:55 pm

Thank you for your comment(s) Justine! And I absolutely LOVE when you said ” No one works for free and the service they offer can be the make or break of your vacation.. why leave it in the hands of the Internet.” As much as I would ‘love’ to work for free just so you can take a vacation… it’s not gonna happen.

Hopefully more people will see the added assurance and value that an agent brings to them and their trips, and stop being so bloody price focussed.


r July 16, 2015 at 1:02 pm

Ruddagah typical know it all. Travel agents do not cost any more than booking on expedia etc. I can’t wait for the day you are stuck in destination and are stuck on hold for hours trying to fix it, when if you had booked with your travel agent they would taken care of all the hassel for you. People like you make me laugh. Not sure why you won’t trust an expert for the same price.


Melissa July 18, 2015 at 11:01 pm

To each their own… he’ll learn one day.


Laura July 16, 2015 at 6:04 pm

After spending 25 years in travel the worst thing was ” I found that Cheaper online”
Ok.:. So why are you here ????
What ? You don’t trust the Internet ? Or you think I’m an idiot ??
Neither of which was the truth !!
The truth was … They made it up and had a champagne tongue with lemonade pockets !


Melissa July 18, 2015 at 11:01 pm

Oh my god… the WORST! I hated those people…like stop wasting my time and get off your wallet.


Frank July 16, 2015 at 8:15 pm

The article is great in the sense of opening up to the public some of the basic thoughts that travel agents in Australia base their existence on.

The unfortunate reality is that the article continues to perpetuate inconsistent attitudes of how people interact with the concept of travel, purchasing it and then ‘travelling’. For example the attitude that using a travel agent supports local jobs, peoples lives and mortgages. The commission structure in travel agencies is inhumane, unfair and manipulative. A great example is a famous travel agency in Australia. The agency pays its employees minimum wage, it then introduces a commission structure which is basically 3 tiers, 10% of profit up to approximately $10,000, 20% of anything between $10,000 to $15,000, 25% of anything over. This is paid as a second income which means a higher tax bracket. Remember that commission is paid on profit. For a single agent to bring in $10,000 of profit they must sell upwards of $130,000 worth of travel per month. With profit margins ranging from 2% – 6% on majority of products that is a steep mountain to climb. This famous travel agency also does not pay its employees over time, the attitude is that “if you want to make it, you will put in the hours”. This leads an environment where travel agents over price products they sense you have not researched and may not be familiar with and rush you to make a purchase on fear of rapidly increasing prices. The other end of the spectrum is travel agents working countless hours, their kids sleeping in the back of the store just so their parents can squeeze that extra few hours just to “make it”.

When you use a travel agent you are barely supporting their living, majority of the profit ends up somewhere higher up the food chain and you have probably over paid for most your holiday. At least you can sleep comfortably knowing that you supported a local business right?

What is being suggested here is let’s not be fools and allow travel agencies to continue operating like it is 1970. Travel agencies should evolve and offer products and services that are innovative. Think, what would Australia be without Uber? The taxi companies have enjoyed a good 20 years of high profit margins and are unhappy with the introduction of Uber. But if Uber stays or goes it has changed the way we get from point A – B, how we request a service and how we pay for the service. So personally my money will go to the most innovative company that shows respect to its employees by being fair in its renumeration structure.


Melissa July 18, 2015 at 11:06 pm

Hi Frank, I do completely agree with everything you said in your comment – which is partially why I am no longer a travel agent. The renumeration structure is awful in some companies (including the one I worked for) I put in TONS of extra hours only for the HOPE that the person I was dealing with would book. And even after all that, when I did my yearly taxes… I was still sitting around the poverty line (in Canada).

There are a number of travel agencies or independent agents who do make quite a good living though doing what they do – when they’re not giving up 90% of their commission to “The Man.”

That being said, I love your ideas for how we can bring it up into the new millennium though (likening it to Uber). You may be onto something!


Rees July 16, 2015 at 9:22 pm

I’ve worked in this industry for many years and so often I’ve heard stories of people booking online & then being denied boarding because they were not aware they needed visas or that they needed 6 months validity on their passports and I just sit back and think, “well had you gone to see an agent, you would have had an amazing holiday”. With a travel agent is not always about price, its about that extra care they take to make sure you have a trouble free holiday. If it doesn’t cost you anymore than booking online, Why wouldn’t you?


Melissa July 21, 2015 at 11:55 am

Rees, EXACTLY! Even those agents who do charge a service fee, I feel are worth using. I hate how everyone is so price focussed. I mean… isn’t someones time and the good service you receive worth anything?

Oh well… unfortunately until people run into problems, they won’t see the value in having someone on your side… their loss.


Kana July 17, 2015 at 11:48 am

Hi Melissa! I told you I would visit your blog 🙂 I love it! Thanks for reaching out on Instagram and checking out my blog – I’m really looking forward to getting to know you and hopefully meeting you when I’m in Toronto! Love this post, too! I used to work for the airlines and most recently hospitality, working with a lot of travel agents! Talk soon! xo
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Melissa July 21, 2015 at 11:56 am

Hi Kana! Yay! Thanks for stopping by… and I really look forward to meeting you in Toronto when you’re here later in the year!


Div July 22, 2015 at 4:19 pm

I am a travel agent and we work on comission. When someone calls in and doesn’t book, it affects our pay for not converting a sale. We are more than happy to help people and can offer better options that are not provided on the website. Plus, the service is free! So, is the advice!


Linda August 4, 2015 at 11:22 am

Good article. I studied to work as a travel agent many years ago and up until about 10 years ago I always booked through an agent. Their knowledge and expertise is something that most people won’t have. Unfortunately, over the past few years every time I’ve gone to an agent, they’ve never gotten me a better price than what I got on my own.


Jayne August 10, 2015 at 3:14 am

As a travel agent who had changed travel companies every year due to not being happy with company ethic or pay structure, I have now worked for one of the UK’s most highly regarded agencies. While they are the not perfect employer, their ethic can’t be faulted. If a manager checks your work after a client has paid & finds a £6 saving, the client will get that back. No other agency I know will not just jiggle the figures & hide it somewhere in the bill! We have a higher salary & lower commission making us not hungry to lie our way into a sale out of enormous financial pressure. It happens. My last company made me want to cry they were so vile. When people say they’ve price beaten me against them, I want to tell them exactly what a chance they take with them but can’t as it would be slander. Most agents make up their commission which is why they can play with figures (also why I’ve been unknowingly in a price war with another agent on the same company – what kind of message does that tell the public?). My current company does not & although it’s frustrating at times when people will go to someone else to save £10 on a £5000 holiday, I prefer that to the bartering system. It’s hard to explain that to clients who know how the travel industry works.
But I love being an agent & it truly is worth it when someone recognises your immense knowledge & experience & pays that extra £20 to book with you


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