Let's face it: You're measured by your clients' entire overseas travel experience, and that covers everything from the plane trip to the hotel bedding. But it also includes their ability to stay in touch with home and the office—and that means a cell phone. Cell phone rentals can bring you not only repeat customers, but possible commissions.
Get Dialed In
Fifteen years ago, Josh Mehlman was trying to improve the world. Working on a humanitarian aid project sponsored by the State Department, he was attempting to be a part of a rebuilding process, which included Russia's schools and hospitals. "I ran one of the programs and traveled through Europe and the Soviet Union," he says, "and the frustrations I had were crazy for keeping in touch. Nothing seemed to work." That's when he decided to start TravelCell.com, which officially got off the ground in 1998. "It gives agents a flat rate or a commission and they choose the package that works for them," he says. "Many agents prefer the percentage, and we give up to 15 percent of the total bill, which includes rental fees and everything except shipping. Plus, we can give free rentals to agents and discounts for related services."
Sebastian Harrison, president of CellularAbroad.com, got into the business because of his travel between the U.S. and Italy, where he was born. He was desperately trying to figure out why the SIM cards he used weren't available to everyone. "Verizon rates are at around $5.99 a minute plus tax, so I worked on [a deal in which] our company has calls [placed] from London at a dime and Germany is 14 cents—incoming calls are free," he says. "With our deal, the agency gets $25 commission. We've been bringing in more customers for agents because our phones are able to work in so many countries." Their phones allow incoming calls in up to 60 countries and work in as many as 150.
The rental options vary. Customers can get phones two to three days before departure for advanced trips, but a phone can also be overnighted if it's needed the next day. "Many times we have clients call us on the way to the airport," he says. "We can't get it to Europe by the time they get to the hotel, but they won't be waiting long." Another advantage, says Harrison, is that they can adjust the phone to the itinerary. "If you're going to China for three days, Singapore for four and then London, you need phones set up to handle it all. The worst is to be in a country expecting service and then be out of luck."
The company, founded in 2002, has 80 to 90 agent partners presently, and agents can become an affiliate by going to the website.
Michael Hocheiser, a Southfield, MI-based agent who uses TravelCell, finds phone rentals are a hot seller for European trips and he even gives it away as an extra with trips to Israel. "I recommend my clients take at least one phone and usually two phones because of how necessary it can be on a trip for business or to find out where you are if you get lost," he says. "Every travel agent has to differentiate themselves from the agency down the block and this has been a great way to do it. Part of a good trip is knowing you have the comforts of home if you need it. I've had customers thank me many times for the phone." —Eric Butterman