Moaning & Groaning — Again

By Les-Lee Roland


I was talking to someone who retired from the travel business over fifteen years ago. He had been very successful, had over 30 satellite offices, had great contracts with suppliers and he had traveled all over the world. And after selling out, he never looked back. Not even once.

Now he is watching me work, and he is so surprised about how the industry has changed. Working with the suppliers is so different today, perks for the agents are not the same, the competition between the cruise lines and their inventories, well everything has changed. He was amazed that some cruise lines charge for food! Something we now take for granted. He was used to free airfare, yes free! He was on a first name basis and could just call the head of a cruise line whenever he had to. 

He couldn’t believe my conversation with a major cruise line for me to get the price broken down — which for me all these years means, base rate, the port — now called non-commissionable, and the taxes — now referred to as taxes and fees. What is a fee? The agent still quoted the total cruise cost and not the port which was included. When I asked for the third time what was not commissionable, she told me $350. When I questioned that, since it is usually $175, she said their new procedure is the higher amount which includes a fee to the cruise line. That’s a first! The agent confirmed the fees are higher now, so the cruise line makes the money and we don’t get a commission on it.

My friend has heard me on the phone with my complaints to cruise lines on the mistakes with pricing, with invoices, and mundane items. I refuse to take the survey with Princess anymore. The agent might be great on the phone and when I get the invoice two minutes later, the name is misspelled, or an amenity quoted is not listed. I hate having to call the client back and say it was not my error, the cruise line rep made the error. 

I understand why some suppliers give a spiff, or commission, to their phone agents but some of these phone people are too aggressive. If I call for a quote, especially if it’s for a past passenger with their company, and if I don’t book, I have actually been told that the phone agent will then call MY client and try to make the booking. 

I have been in this business now for almost thirty years, and I am not pleased with many facets of our industry. I started when outside agents were not the respected part of the industry as they now are. We paid our dues, had to learn on our own, and some of us are the highest producers in the industry today.

So when I came upon some newer suppliers that I wanted to work with, it was like starting all over again. One company, my new client, who loves birdwatching and nature had mentioned to me, MIR. In fact she had already put a deposit on a trip with them — the Three Stans. It involved 3 different visas and she was quite confused. So, I called MIR and told them I was assisting her with her air, insurance, and the three visas, and after a great conversation with Andrew, he said he would turn the booking over to me. I would be the one she could contact with her many questions. And I would get the commission.

And, boy did she have questions but I learned a lot about the countries, her needs and Andrew was a good teacher.

A few weeks later other new clients told me they wanted to go to New Zealand just to hike and not do the traditional tours there. She had found an itinerary online, Active Adventures, and I called the company. They told me they don’t work with travel agents. When I convinced the person in charge that not only would the client work with me, and not bother them with endless questions, I could now bring a new audience to their offerings. They said they would offer me 5%, as long as the client never made contact with them. They must hate talking to the clients other than taking their money. 

Before the deposit was made, the client did call and ask about another itinerary. Then I got a phone call, the client was now theirs, because she had given her name and phone number — so no commission for me. The clients did go on the trip, but she told me afterwards, she will call me for the next trip. 

Then I got another referral, and this one wanted Rockjumpers, another nature/birdwatching tour. All of a sudden, this new avenue of travel is finding me. So, I called, ready to book and they don’t pay a commission. Not even a 5% on the first with an increase on subsequent bookings. Another company I am taking off the list. The client did call them and was put on a waitlist, they needed six people to run the tour, and they only had three. (If they had worked with me, I could have found them 2 more people). Weeks later, the client called me, they trip was a go, but she was going to be charged extra, since they still didn’t have enough people. 

The client likes working with me, and she wants me to do the insurance, air, plus one week pre trip in two countries. She sent me the info from Rockjumpers and they don’t assist the clients with some of the add ons that we agents can do. Their E-mail to the client said if they want hotels to go online and find them on her own. For transfers, their E-mail said to try and arrange it through the hotel they book. Sure, you’re going to the Ukraine, and just leave it up to the hotel to arrange a transfer??? Now, my client has been telling her friends that people who book on their own are making a big mistake, and they should work with a travel agent-preferably me! And when I needed to know about a timetable to schedule her return air, I called the company twice and left messages. Did I get a return call — NO! The client sent them an e-mail asking them to respond to me. Again — NO! But they did respond to the client. With the answer to my question.

I have spoken to other agents on this, and they would never have tried to work with any of these companies. 

Well, I am not a snob, and I will try to work with these companies. The worst thing that can happen is they say “no”. I work ­for my clients first, and for me, second. In fact, sometimes I am making more on the incidentals than I do on a single booking. And now I have clients who are referring people to me.

But today, as I am writing this column, I really lost my cool. A rep called from a major cruise line that offers an air allowance of $1000 pp with their luxury cruises. He said they were cancelling my client’s air on their booked itinerary, since they found I was holding unticketed air space for the clients. 

I told him that I had called their air dept. twice this week to see if they could tell me the airlines they were working with, and I was told no I would have to wait until 75 days before travel. Yet I had to pay in full ninety days in advance. The client asked me what it would cost if I booked the air not using the cruise line offerings. I found excellent connections and they were concerned that the cruise line’s offerings would not be as good.

If the cruise line had the info available on the flights already, why didn’t they inform me when I called in. I don’t like threatening phone calls from a supplier — and he also suggested I was probably a new agent to selling travel otherwise I would never have looked for air on my own.

Having a day like today makes me think if it’s worth being in this business. But after a cool down period, I am still here.

I have learned from my dear friend, who I wrote about in the beginning, about his years in the business. He cannot believe how this industry has changed. Wait until I tell him what our FIT agent rate is going to be this summer.