Making Sense of Planning Fees in Travel
My family and I traveled over Christmas week, and when we came home we noticed this sound that was a cross between a jet engine taking off and what I can only imagine an old model T sounded like as it sputtered to life. We all stood in the kitchen staring at each other for a few minutes when my daughter finally said "WHAT is wrong with the fridge?!" We opened the doors and discovered that our not even four year old fridge had something seriously wrong with it. My first inclination wasn't to hop on Google or go on YouTube and try to DIY it. Now, I know some of you are savvy enough to do that. But I also know that, in my household, that would lead to tears, frustration and very likely a call to a divorce attorney. NOT WORTH IT! So, I called my trusted appliance repair person. Sadly, I think they've repaired every appliance we have in our house now. After telling them about the jet engine in my kitchen (and them seeming to know exactly what I was describing) they told me they could come out that afternoon. They also said, "I need to explain how we work. We charge a $75 trip charge to diagnose the issue. This is in addition to any parts or labor costs, and you're not obligated to use us after we come out, but it is non-refundable." I had no issue with this because I knew I needed an expert to come fix my issue, I trusted them because they had been out before, and I thought $75 was a fair price to pay for their time and expertise in diagnosing the issue. What if I thought I could fix the fridge for cheaper than what he quoted me? I still had to pay him $75 because I took his time away from being able to assist another customer.
You might be thinking "I thought I was on a travel page?" Well, you are, but I wanted to use this example to help lead into an explanation about why many travel agencies have started charging fees. You may not know this, but without fees travel agents don't get paid unless you travel. If you think about it for a minute, it probably makes sense. If you, the client, hasn't paid the agent, then where is the money coming from? In many cases, the suppliers - tour companies, cruise lines, hotels, etc. - will pay a commission for booking a client. But commissions are not significant typically, and they are decreasing more and more, especially as many travel companies look for ways to cut costs after two years (and counting) of losses from the pandemic. I'm not telling you this to start a pity party, but I am sharing this to tell you that you should be looking at a travel agent like I looked at my appliance repair person: someone I called because I either didn't want to do the repair myself or because I knew I couldn't. And I was more than happy to pay him for his time and professional knowledge. Not all travel agents are created equal, but good travel agents are highly trained, well-traveled, and extremely valuable resources for their clients. Not only do agents have personal experiences and a vast network to draw from, but they know how to navigate the airlines, cruise lines, tour operators, insurance companies, etc., stay up to date on the latest regulations, and can provide you with real information to help you make an informed decision. When you build a relationship with an agent, they begin to know your likes, preferences, interests, and favorites, and will save you an enormous amount of time and stress. Imagine how nice it would be to pick up the phone and tell someone "will you book us at the same resort for spring break again" and it's taken care of? If you think you can find better deals or are interested in beating people's prices, you might be more of a DIYer. But my most recent client is a converted DIYer who came to us because she learned the hard way that resorts don't think highly of online travel sites and had no one to turn to when things went really wrong during her last trip. I also gained a client when I was able to help him solve an issue he was having at a resort we were both staying at. He had booked online and wasn't my client, but I was still able to use my connections to help him out.
Recently, one of my team members saw feedback on a Facebook group where people were angry about travel planning fees. One lady even said "only terrible travel agents charge fees. You need to find someone new NOW." My team member was dumbfounded. Why is it terrible to be paid for your time and expertise? Why do you tip your server in a restaurant, your Uber driver, or your hair stylist? Why are you willing to pay diagnostic fees to your mechanic or electrician? When you go to your doctor's office, don't you pay for an office visit? Before a contractor begins a job, don't you pay a deposit? Or how about the hourly rate you pay when you work with an attorney? Imagine if I told my mechanic "Thanks for fixing my car, but I'm not going to pay you. I've realized I can buy the parts and fix it myself for a lot less now that you've told me how to do it." Or what if I had told my appliance repair person I wasn't going to pay him after he made my fridge stop sounding like a jet engine because I changed my mind? A travel agent spends hours, sometimes days, researching options based on your specific preferences and requests, pricing these options, and putting together an itinerary to send to you. Custom itineraries are very time consuming and can be very complex. Isn't that why you called a travel agent? Paying your travel agent for the expertise he or she provides shouldn't be seen as terrible but instead should be seen as recognizing the value and professional service you've received.