Three weeks before Christmas, Anna Harrison, owner of Trips by Anna, got a request for a holiday booking from a new client who noted “our friends told us you are THE agent for Portugal trips.”
Much as she wanted to live up to the challenge, Harrison considered how busy she already was, and how she was working too much during the holidays—and decided to charge an extra $150 to compensate for the extra effort and stress.
The client said yes; Harrison sent out a proposal the next day; the client booked the day after; Harrison was inspired to “deliver 100 percent for this client and do an amazing trip for her"—and the Rush Planning Fee was born.
Heading into their busiest year in history—and a time when consumers once again are valuing their services—many travel advisors report that in 2020 they have begun to charge fees, raised their fees, or added new fees for their services.
For some, the menu now includes client change fees, last-minute booking fees and holiday travel fees, all designed to cover the extra hassle such trips cause for already-overworked travel advisors.
Indeed, in an informal Facebook poll, just 14 percent of the 374 travel advisors who responded said they are not charging any fees in 2020—while a whopping 86 percent are.
Travel Agent Fees for 2020
37 percent (138 respondents) – charge for air and occasionally for other services
26 percent (98) – charge for services
18 percent (69) – charge for air only
14 percent (51) – do not charge fees at all
Data: 374 travel advisors who responded to a Facebook poll
For Harrison, meanwhile, the Rush Planning Fee has paid off in two unexpected ways. “I suspect that people who have given a fee make quicker decisions,” she says—either yes, “because they already are mentally invested,” or no, because they don’t want to pay it.
In January, when she mentioned it to a customer asking for a personalized itinerary in Alaska, “the fee made her really evaluate if she was serious about going—and the answer was no. And that was okay.”
Her website now notes that trips booked within 60 days of departure “may" incur a refundable $150 Plan to Go fee, and trips within 30 days may have a $150 non-refundable rush planning fee.
“I don’t charge for trips where I’m just calling GoWay or Avanti or searching AgentUniverse for a cruise,” Harrison says. “But I do for trips where I really do invest a lot of effort into curating my proposals.”
Many others also are reviewing their approach to fees in 2020.
Becky Lukovic, at Bella Travel Planning, for example, has raised her fees for the first time in 10 years. With business booming, “it’s hard to keep up, so it’s time to up the ante.” Indeed, she feels she lost one potential new client recently because her low fees made her appear less professional than her peers.
Loulu Lima, at Book Here, Give Here Travel, raised the 2020 planning fee she charges on every trip to $300, from $250, and her fee for weddings to $1,500, from $1,250.
Kim DelPonte at Pixie Dust & Paradise Travel has not yet decided, but is thinking about raising her $250 nonrefundable upfront fee to $299, and keeping her $499 FIT fee the same. (She has referred the occasional customer who declines to pay to her independent consultant, who does not yet charge).
A number of travel advisors interviewed for this story requested that we not use their names. But one said that for 2020 she is charging $40-$100 for an airline ticket; $50-$250 for a simple booking; $150-$250 for groups; and $399-$2,999 for weddings.
For incentives, one quoted a planning fee of $300 plus $100-$200 per person built into the package price.
Another has rolled out a new $350 fee for “client initiated changes or cancellations, when clients change dates, move staterooms or move people around.”
Kim Kellar, owner of Cohasset Travel, has raised her fee for booking with frequent-traveler points to 10 percent to 15 percent of the value, up from 10 percent , and added an “OMG Fix My Online Mistake” fee of $75 an hour, chargeable in 15-minute increments.
At Travelstore in Irvine, CA, Cathy Udovch does not charge fees to her regular customers. But after taking specialized training and being named a New Zealand Expert in Signature Travel Network’s new Travel Expert Select program, her name is now posted on the New Zealand Tourism website. For new clients coming through there because of her hard-won expertise, Udovch is charging $150 per person for up to eight nights, $200 for 9 to 13 nights, and $300 for 14+, as well as a fee for last-minute or holiday bookings.
And new travel advisor Hannah Angel reports that, while she was at first apprehensive about her agency’s $325 per-trip planning fee, she has found that “clients recognize that we are going to earn their trust and show them the value of our services,” and that the fee “solidifies our relationship.”
Still, though, some travel advisors are holding the line on no fees at all. Phillip Archer, for example, feels that the commissions from his luxury clientele compensate him fairly. “I have considered a retainer where I charge $250 and credit it toward their booking, but I really have not seen the need,” he says. “I have been in sales for 30 years, so I am pretty good at figuring out who is going to be a waste of my time.”
Amanda Storm, too, will remain fee-free, though she does put a note in her CRM marking the tire-kickers who ask her to research two separate trips and then end up not taking either.
A Fee by any Other Name
Teri Hurley, though, noted that fees, like the customers who pay them, must be approached on a case-by-case basis. In the luxury market, clients “are surrounded by professional support services and they get it, most of the time. They don’t blink at fees. But the cheap traveler has to be approached in a different manner. You must know your bottom line and address your niche.”
It’s all in the phrasing, she says. Providing custom websites, bon voyage parties, t-shirts and gifts for groups, for example, “warrants a cost in addition to your commission compensation. But I wouldn’t label it a fee.” Instead, she offers a package rate.
But Simone di Santi, a travel consultant and video blogger at A Road Retraveled, who also consults for some small Italian suppliers, noted that the trend toward not charging fees actually hurts small companies.
Many family-owned small hotels and tour operators are struggling to keep their prices affordable to attract their own clients, and still are being pushed for commissions by travel advisors who do not charge fees, she said.
“I’m glad to hear so many travel advisors know the value of their work and experience and don’t expect to live on just commissions, which are not always possible these days,” she said.