Travel agent booking fees

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by StevePER, Feb 21, 2007.

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  1. StevePER

    StevePER Established Member

    Oct 17, 2004
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    This feels very much like a newbie question.

    I haven't booked anything through a travel agent for several years (apart from our incompetent corporate TA), but now I've found a fare on Expertflyer that I want to book. Do TAs these days all charge booking fees? If so is there much variation in fees between agents?

    Cheers,
    Steve
     

  2. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
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    So do, some don't. Depends on the fare (ie whether commissionable and how much they get from airline), amount of work, your relationship with the agent, etc. Can vary between nothing to substantial amounts.
     
  3. aspro2

    aspro2 Member

    Nov 26, 2004
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    As KiwiFlyer indicated, it depends on the choice of fare more often than not -- Zuji and Bestflights will both levy a service charge (transparently) on certain fares. The majority of travel agents also charge a % if you pay by credit card now.

    I think the 'hidden' fee is what agents charge for any changes to an itinerary after full payment. (Note that for some the charge is applied even if the ticket hasn't yet been issued. Ticket change fees are additional.) The charge seems to range from $25 to a bit over $100 depending on agent. Almost all agents have a charge noted in the T&Cs, but whether they apply it is another matter.
     
  4. Dave Noble

    Dave Noble Senior Member

    Oct 10, 2005
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    I have seen shops like Flight Centre and STA attempt to add hidden fees by adding $50 to the price of the tickets when getting a quote and then quoting the higher price as the cost of the ticket

    Dave
     
  5. StevePER

    StevePER Established Member

    Oct 17, 2004
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    Thanks for the info everyone, I will be alert to their tricks.
     
  6. GDSman

    GDSman Member

    Oct 18, 2004
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    Historically, travel agents were able to earn commission from two sources - at point of sale as a % of the value of the ticket and via 'overrides' which were paid quarterly/annually based on $ volume. Since most airlines removed nearly all the former and a lot of the latter many 'agents' now feel (and I completely sympathise) that they should act like retailers and introduce fees to cover their service. The dreaded fuel levy is also the curse of the travel agent as it isn't commissionable for nearly all carriers (same with most other taxes). In leisure fees can feasibly be added opaquely into the quoted price of the ticket, while in corporate it tends to be a transparent, negotiated amount. Either way I don't think it's unreasonable for them to charge the consumer for each time they handle the booking, whether that's selling, amending, refunding or whatever. I think there may be a few misunderstandings about agents and while I would certainly recommend checking all Ts and Cs I'd also advocate greater understanding of their business model.
     
  7. Tiki

    Tiki Member

    Jul 21, 2004
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    I can understand why they would charge a fee if they are putting in a lot of work to do a custom booking where they have to do the research, check various fares and send lots of faxes on your behalf.

    I do have a problem with paying these fees when I have done all the research, I know exactly what I want and the only reason I have gone to the travel agent is because they are advertising what I want at a cheaper fare or the supplier doesn't do business with the general public. Last year for the Egypt trip, I walked into a Flight Centre after researching online and knew the cheapest fare to get me what I want, I knew what flights were available and had a spreadsheet with exactly what I wanted booked. The agent just copied my data into their system and booked the flights and took a deposit. They provided no knowledge that I didn't already have, but because the fare on TG/KU wasn't available to the public I had to use the agent. SHe didn't even know about the fare until I showed her the printout from an online TA and asked them to beat the fare which she did by $20.

    She didn't charge me a booking fee though there was a fee to use my Visa which was all I had back then. Other agents would have charged the standard fee and I can't see justifying it in this case.
     
  8. GDSman

    GDSman Member

    Oct 18, 2004
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    I think Tiki's comments highlight one of the issues in the industry today - more informed consumers becoming disgruntled at perceived price gouging where the consumer has done all the work..Of course from the agent's perspective it's quite a different story. A 'bricks and mortar' Travel Agent has a significantly different cost base to an online agent.
    My view is that any commodity can be researched on the web today but it's unlikely that every shopfront is going to match or beat every price that can be found on the web. I don't think I'd get much of a discount on a car or a TV with the argument that 'I knew what I wanted before I walked in', yet many people expect this to work in travel.
     
  9. Travel Guru

    Travel Guru Established Member

    Apr 19, 2006
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    With all due respect Tiki, as a former agent, just because you know exactly what you want when you walk in, doesn't mean it's as simple as pressing a mcdonalds order pad and spitting out what you require.

    Just because you walk into your accountants office with all of your books in order doesn't justify you expecting him to do it for next to nothing.

    There are several reasons I believe that agents are justified in charging a service charge:

    1. When you book with an agent, the agent is assuming all the risk on your booking, they make a mistake, it can cost hundreds and thousands to fix, and quite frankly, if someone walked in to me with a web fare with next to no markup, I wouldn't bother, its not worth assuming the risk, and its not worth my time.

    2. Travel Agents are trained professionals, when you have a problem overseas, theres alot more support forthcoming from an agent than from a website call centre.

    3. Bricks and Morter agents offer a far different service than websites, and just as while some people might find the service h&R Block offer on their accounting, others require the service of a top end accounting firm, and its no different in travel.
    Travel for decades has been a free service, but consumers must realise that its an old business model, and that if you want service, you should expect to pay for it.

    Obviously there are unscrupulous agents out there, i've worked with them, ive seen them in action, but for the most part, agents are honest people trying their best to meet targets and to make a living.

    Travel Guru
     
  10. crow

    crow Junior Member

    Apr 28, 2006
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    Adelaide
    Based on my recent experiences I would have to agree with Tiki and disagree with Travel Guru.

    I was in a very similar situation to Tiki as I had two adult fares booked ADL to LAX and return SFO to ADL on Qantas FF points and I needed two child fares on the same flights for my kids. Obviously I new the exact dates and flights I wanted and at 12:10am when the fare I was prepared to pay came up I emailed the agent who I had spoken about it to and asked her to book.

    When I spoke to her she said no booking fee as I had done all the work and quoted the best available fare which was equivalent to the return fare to LAX. I queried whether the LA fare could be combined with the cheaper SFO fare for the return leg and was told it was not possible so I agreed to pay the return LA fare. They put it through on my card direct to Qantas and I ended up with 3 debits on my card. Two to Qantas and 1 to the agent.

    After I later received the ticket the fare on the ticket was the combined LAX / SFO fare which was cheaper than the fare quoted and the 2 debits to Qantas were the ticketed amount with the balance of the airfare quoted being the debit to the agent.

    When I queried what happened there was no explanation forthcoming only a litany of lies and patronising insults such as "extra fuel surcharges" and the "ticket issued incorrectly" which were refuted when I contacted Qantas.

    Obviously they decided to keep difference between the quoted fare and the ticketed fare but they have at no time disclosed that to me.

    So Travel Guru to reply to your points;

    1. Presumably if an agent assumes the risk then it is irrelevant whether they or online or have a shop front. As you pay up front before you actually really see what you have got (ie. the ticket) I can assure that there was little interest in resolving the issue.

    2. The agent who I dealt with is a member of AFTA but clearly acted outside their code of ethics and I certainly would not be putting any faith in them while I had a problem overseas.

    3.As an accountant I can assure you your analogy is flawed. If you walk into my office with all your transactions processed, all bank accounts, GST etc reconciled and hand me a printout to prepare your tax returns of course it will be cheaper than if you bring in a box with all your bank statements, cheque butts, receipts etc in it and leave it with me to process.

    I would expect the same at a travel agent. If I tell you what dates, what airline, what flights, what fare etc I don't expect to pay the same as someone who is not sure when they are going, how they are going, and how much they are paying and requires the travel agent's time, knowledge and experience to help them work it out.

    So maybe it is the agents having the problem with the new business model not the more well informed consumers with direct access to products that previously had to be purchased through an agent.

    Maybe agents should rebate all commissions and work on a fee for service basis only rather than the charge booking fees which are topped up by hidden commissions and fees that the consumer never knows about.

    Agents are hanging on to the old business model while trying to get consumers to accept the new one.

    Agents want the best of both worlds and that is why more people will try to bypass them.
     
  11. Dave Noble

    Dave Noble Senior Member

    Oct 10, 2005
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    If purchasing a published fare, I do not see any reason to use a travel agent if all the work has been done already; why not just buy from the airline. If desiring to use a travel agent, then expect that the TA will charge their fees and that you are likely to be liable for any additional fees that they charge for cancellations/changes et al

    The agents fees tend to be a fixed amount or percentage and not dependant on how much work they have to do; some purchases may be simple , others might be of the lines of "I'd like to go around the word sometime later this year" , yet they don't charge by the hour

    If purchasing a consolidator fare that is only available from an agent, then again I see no reason why they should not charge their fees since you have to buy from an agent anyway

    Dave
     
  12. NM

    NM
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    Aug 27, 2004
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    I agree. Our corporate TA has two fixed fees, one for domestic itineraries and one for international itineraries (which is about 3x the domestic fee). These are known charged regardless of itinerary complexity. The TA is taking a risk that sometimes their effort will be low and they make some money on the fixed fee, and other times the itinerary is complex and the lose out. I am sure it costs them more than the international service fee for some of my DONE4 itineraries by the time it is booked, modified, ticketed etc. I am glad they don't charge by the hour!

    So if they are charging a fixed fee, then make the itinerary complex and get better value for money :D .
     
  13. serfty

    Moderator

    Nov 16, 2004
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    That's fair enough; If it can be purchased on the Web there is no need to use a TA.
    Fully agree, if the fare can be purchased on line then do so. Then TA fees are not an issue.

    For fares only available from an agent, then you have to weigh up the cost of using that agent against what it cost for a similar web available fare.

    As far as crow's shonky agent goes, there are shonks in all industries; one really needs to be careful.

    Having indicated that, it's for reasons such as crow's that I avoid using agents unless they can get travel significantly cheaper than I can. If I do feel the need to use an agency, it's via a rather large company who's employees get no additional benefit for dodgy practices.
     
  14. crow

    crow Junior Member

    Apr 28, 2006
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    Adelaide
    I don't have a problem with any of that. I needed two child airfares ( that I could not book online as I already had the adult fares), travel insurance, 25 nights accommodation, theme park tickets, car hire etc. I paid for the airfares and the travel insurance (which have avery high % commission) and asked for quotes for the rest at least 3 times before I discovered the fare discrepancy and got told lie after lie. Never at any stage did they inform me that they had charged me a fee. The additional amount was for "extra fuel surcharges etc".

    I thought that if I go direct to the airline the commission they would pay to an agent they keep so I may as well go to an agent because their is enough in it for them to make it worthwhile.

    I was wrong and next time I will go direct to the airline.

    I don't have any problem whatsoever paying cancellation / change fees.

    HTML:
     
    "The agents fees tend to be a fixed amount or percentage and not dependant on how much work they have to do; some purchases may be simple , others might be of the lines of "I'd like to go around the word sometime later this year" , yet they don't charge by the hour"
    
    My point exactly. Instead of Travel Guru complaining that consumers don't understand the new business model, maybe agents need to understand that maybe their business model needs some work and that charging people based on a % of cost or a flat fee and commissions is irrelevant. That is why agents are becoming less relevant and while they will continue to have a role will continue to become less relevant.

    If a client requests a detailed, complex itinerary then let them know that that is more expensive. Equally a simple job should be charged on the time to book and ticket. Why is it so hard? Because it is different to the way people have thought previously or because the real money is made from the amounts the consumer doesn't know he is paying. ( Just look at the financial services industry with superannuation, managed funds etc with the investment commissions and trailing commissions etc.)

    Or do the agents believe that they operate like health insurance and have a community rating system where everybody pays the same.
     
  15. acampbel

    acampbel Member

    Oct 31, 2005
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    This is going over some old ground and I too have had to cop booking fees because the Qantas web site did not allow me to DIY. The most recent of these was on a trip to Singapore where the only option was to return via Perth. I rang up the Agent to see if they could get a direct flight (they couldn't) and then asked them to book the dog-leg because I couldn't.

    Result :- A quick $55 to the Agent.

    I don't think it is feasible to move to a model that is pay-by-the-hour, but why can't some variations be applied? If you see a doctor there is normally a scale of charges depending on the length and complexity of the consultation so maybe the Travel Agents could use something similar. For example :-

    1. Domestic booking fee - $10
    2. Simple Domestic itinerary fee - $20
    3. Complex Domestic itinerary fee - $40+
    4. International booking fee - $20
    5. Simple Internantional itinerary fee - $40
    6. Complex Internantional itinerary fee - $40+
    So there would at least be some connection between the service provided and the costs charged, rather than the "roundabouts and swings" model that is currently followed.


    Cheers,

    Andrew

    .
     
  16. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
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    For the times I have to use a TA I quite like a flat fee. It means someone else is subsidising the work they put in on my complex itineraries.

    The TA doesn't mind the work since I do help by doing some research first and reasonable volume.
     
  17. Tiki

    Tiki Member

    Jul 21, 2004
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    BNE
    The fare I was referring to was being marketed by KU and there was a choice of routings from Australia to a gateway city where you picked up the KU service from BKK/SIN/MNL or KUL to the middle east. I usually use EK but they didn't come out with a cheapie to CAI last year during the time I was looking around and I liked the idea of a stopover in KWI since I lived here 8 years ago for a year.

    I found the fare involved on Best Flights and at that time Flight Centre was advertising they would beat any advertised published fare by $20 per person so I took them up on it. The TA had to ring KU office in SYD to confirm the existance of the fare, she didn't have a clue. They assured her it was a legit fare. Last year, they weren't charging booking fees, but I think this year they are. I was looking around for the best way to buy the RTW tickets for the July trip. Luckily I don't need to resort to a TA, I got that sorted out with AA.

    It's just really frustrating for me when I really just want to jump on the airline's website, book my flights myself punch in a credit card number and print out an e-ticket. I don't WANT any extra "service" from a TA. I know what I am doing when I am overseas and I can handle any situation that might come up better than they could. As far as them taking "risks", I think it is far more risky for me. KU is the national airline of one of the world's wealthiest countries. It ain't going nowhere. I see travel agencies going out of business all the time. Luckily, our tickets were issured on KU stock and not Flight Centre stock.

    I can see the purpose of TA's for the general public who don't know what thye are doing and are probably not members of AFF or FT. But there needs to be more options so those of us who DO know what they are doing don't have to subsidize the others.

    BTW, I don't use accountants. I file my own taxes using E-Tax on the ATO website, usually right on 1 July so I can get my refund asap! :mrgreen:
     
  18. GDSman

    GDSman Member

    Oct 18, 2004
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    There's no such thing as 'Flight Centre stock', or any other agent stock for that matter. The closest anyone gets is STA travel with SATA blue tickets which are an alternative to IATA stock. The risk Travel Guru referred to was where an airline or other supplier goes bust leaving the passenger in the lurch and out of pocket. I was pretty surprised when AN went bust, as were many, but it was the travel agents who were left with the enormous liability and risk. You might be able to take care of yourself but financial compensation is another matter.

    The technology exists to do what people want - Tiki found the fare on Best Flights' site. Best Flights had to invest (and still do) considerably to establish their site and under the circumstances they manage to come up with pretty good fares. There are other examples too of high-tech agents offering complex fares to the experts and novices alike. But you can't negotiate with the computer. If a fare needs human intervention you have to expect to pay more, simple as that.
     
  19. crow

    crow Junior Member

    Apr 28, 2006
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    Adelaide
    If you book a commissionable airfare direct with the airline the airline keeps the commission.

    The point being made is that if the agent books the airfare at what point do they justify taking the commission and charging a booking fee as well when the commission only fairly compensates the time taken to book and ticket a straght forward fare where the customer has supplied the airline, date, flight no., fare etc.

    Human intervention alone doesn't justify the boooking fee. Surely it is the task at hand.

    If they want to be upfront about it rebate the commission and charge a fee in line with the time taken.
     
  20. crow

    crow Junior Member

    Apr 28, 2006
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    Adelaide
    Out of curiosty how many agents had to dip into their own pockets because of the AN collapse.

    From memory people who paid by credit card had it reversed and I would have thought that every other ticketholder was an unsecured creditor of AN.

    However I would be interested to know what the enormous liability and risks they were exposed to were.
     
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