Who’s Who... Or Who’s What In This Business

By Les-Lee Roland

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We’ve all gone through those darn robocalls. Even though I try to block them on my phones, they still are on the increase. And for the few with an actual person on the other line, they get a dose from my new favorite weapon — the whistle I keep next to the phone.  


I immediately say to the caller/solicitor — move the phone from your ear — and then I blow the whistle — a shrill very loud whistle. At least it gives me a way to fight back.


On another note, I have been in this business for almost 30 years now. I started on my own — an outside agent when it was looked down on, from brick and mortar people.


I had no mentor in the beginning, and had to learn everything on mine own. I took a CLIA seminar, and complained that the instructor didn’t know anything. His session said we have to learn to be whores in this business — otherwise we wouldn’t succeed. After my complaint about him, he didn’t teach another class — Poof, gone that very day.


The next eye opener, were the card mills. Too many people dished out $495 in order to get a CLIA card and to travel at an agent’s rate. Remember when Princess cruises were $20 a day for travel agents!!! 


So many of these fake travel agents booked hotel rooms that one major chain stopped taking bookings at agent rates. If you wanted to stay there, you had to be a specialist — take a series of online tests and pass. Now, they make you take the classes more often.  Once a specialist is not always a specialist. You have to keep on specializing??? in order to be get an agent rate.  


I interviewed a fellow who sold those $495 packages, and asked what kind of training did he provide to new incoming agents–to–be. He said they can go online and read about the suppliers and take their tests. I suggested he have training en masse, a couple times a year. His response was — that costs money, and as long as I get the $495, I’ve done my job — I don’t owe them anything more.


Today, we all get a certain percentage of spam. And having multiple E-mail addresses, I get a lot of repetition, and it is time consuming to go through them, and I know I will get carpal tunnel syndrome from hitting that delete button.


I will say they are becoming more creative, and I don’t know how I get on some of these lists. Like the one that has a very similar name to one of my suppliers. The difference is that the spam has added the word “the” to the title.  


The focus is they sell their/training to teach you how to become successful as a travel writer or travel photographer. All you really need is the desire to travel, a computer, hopefully a dictionary, and a camera — any kind. They don’t sell that yet.


I am sure that some real travel agents are taking these classes, as well as the wannabees. And perhaps some people will come out of the woodwork and actually get some pieces published. But most, I suspect, will face rejection.

But getting back to some E-mails that should be suspicious.


We have all gotten some E-mails, promoting a new company, a shore excursion, a destination, a website, on and on. And one peaked my interest.

The focus was to purchase airline tickets at lower rates — isn’t that a consolidator??


Since I had been shopping around for various clients’ needs, I decided to call this company. A friendly fellow said they had been doing this for quite a while, and he and his partner — in a different state — had access to numerous contracts. Some contracts were not available to consolidators — but might be to private businesses.


I told him an itinerary, and he promptly told me my rate as opposed to the published rate. I was really surprised since the rate was far lower than what I had gotten from consolidators. Yes, I could use a credit card. Yes, the clients would get mileage points. Yes, the penalties were the same. And when I was ready to book, he told me that whatever upcharge I would use to sell it to my client, the commission would be split 3 ways. One third to him, one third to his partner and one third to me. But the rate was so good, I felt I could take the chance. He did tell me that he works with other consolidators, even mentioning my number one go to, and said he set up their computer systems.


He E-mailed me the PNR and I did check it with the airline, Everything seemed okay, and I booked it, and promptly got my commission check. Even one third was better than anything else I could get.


I booked a couple more with him.  We became “buddies” on the phone. He worked from home, and returned calls weekends and evenings.  I always email to confirm — so I had a paper trail.


But when 2 clients returned from a luxury cruise from South America, they called me and told me their horror story. I had arranged 2 business class tickets, and even with my commission had saved them over $4000. When they arrived at the airport — printed out their boarding passes, the seats were exactly what our paperwork showed, but at the gate they were told the aircraft had been changed to a smaller plane, and they were bumped from first class to a lower class. Their only other option was to stay overnight on their own, to try to get on the daily flight the next day — but no guarantee on the size of the aircraft. They didn’t want to wait any longer, so they accepted $1200 total in travel vouchers and sat in economy. Also, another passenger, also bumped, told them he takes that flight every couple of weeks, and this has happened to him before as well.


My clients asked me if they had been targeted for being bumped because of the lower cost of their tickets. I called my “buddy” and he had never heard of this before.


The clients were so irritated with being treated like this — not by me — but by American Airlines, and called customer service and followed up with a detailed letter.  


He got a response, with an apology, and said an additional check would be sent to the travel agency to make up the dollar amount difference between the first class ticket and the economy. That brought him some comfort to the resolution of the matter.


I reported this to my “buddy” and he was astonished. He said he and his partner had to look into this and when they received the check, he would let me know.


After waiting awhile, my client checked on his own and found that American had sent the check — even though my “buddy” maintained they had not received it.


So — I called ARC to find out the name of the agency, and if the check had been received. ARC in less than 90 seconds provided the info. And it was a travel agency in Coral Gables — nowhere near my “buddy” and his partner.


I called the agency and the accountant reported their computers were down — although I heard dings and whistles going on. She never called me back.


I called my “buddy” reported the new info, and he said the Florida agency had to send it to a California agency and then to him, and they were forfeiting their commission in order for the client to receive his promised amount from American. With 3 people making commissions from 3 different agencies, and still selling the tickets at a far lower rate than any consolidator had offered — wis mindboggling.


Bottom line, we finally got the check back from an agency never mentioned to me. MY “buddy’s partner doesn’t want me work with me, since I am a troublemaker because my client complained to American to complain about the way this matter was handled. And I don’t want to deal with a company who operates this way.


I didn’t lose any clients, I got to keep my commission, but I did get some insight on how some of these contracts work with different agencies. When I confronted my “buddy” that using them as a consolidator was a big mistake.  His answer was “I am not a consolidator, I just sell travel at a discount.” I called my usual consolidator, and asked it they knew my “buddy.” She said, he is just an agent who buys from them occasionally, and resells the tickets.


It’s a mystery to me about who is doing what in this business.