In the “Should you or should you not use a travel agent?” debate, one argument used by the anti-agent side is that travel agents are biased and will push some products over others.
The argument goes that agents will sell products that maximize their profits, as opposed to those that are best for the consumer. That’s not usually the case.
Up front, let me say that there are still some idiot travel agents out there. Bad performers can be found in any profession, although there are less bad agents than there used to be. Quite frankly, lousy travel agents tend to go out of business. There are just too many alternatives these days.
So I’m talking here about good agents. And yes, they are still out there and doing well. But, the best agents often do have favorite properties and companies, which don’t just work to their benefit; it’s a two-way street and, often, it’s “who you know.”
Starting with hotels, if an agent works for a large company or one that is part of a consortium such as Signature or Virtuoso, they should have access to hundreds of properties where their clients get things like free breakfast, upgrades and various credits for everything from spa treatments to parking to food and beverage credits.
On top of that, personal relationships matter. When someone asks for a hotel in London, for example, besides those in our consortium’s preferred program, there are a number of places I’ve seen and/or where I have gotten to know the manager or sales representative. That usually translates to my clients getting better treatment.
Of course, it goes both ways. If I know a nice hotel where the manager will upgrade my client or at least send them a special little welcome amenity, I’ll suggest that property more often.
It’s similar with airlines and tour operators. Maybe an agent can’t get quite the same service as from a single hotel manager, but agents with preferred relationships with certain airline and tour companies get better treatment. If I have clients heading to Europe and one airline may make them wait until check-in for seats, while a second airline will unblock seats for them to sit together, it’s a no-brainer.
Ditto if there’s a tour operator where I know I can reach a human after hours or where I know someone will go the extra mile — I’ll recommend them. It’s not that other companies are necessarily bad, but our agency may not have the same clout or the connections.
If an agent doesn’t have any preferred companies to deal with, that agent probably isn’t booking much travel. Or, they’re basically an order-taker as opposed to a travel consultant.
Do these preferred companies pay us more than the alternatives? Sometimes, but not always. They are, however, more likely to result in a satisfied client. In the final analysis, repeat business is how any profitable travel agent still in business stays in business.