For those that are interested in becoming a travel agent a certain question always comes up – how much do travel agents make? If you’ve done any research, you know there are varying numbers floating around out there. I found a site that stated travel agent salaries were $57,000/yr and another that stated low $30’s. The world’s richest travel agent listed their apartment for $95M – that’s a pretty good salary, no? So how can you find out how much travel agents make and know it’s reliable?
First off, make sure you understand how travel agents make money.
When considering a travel agent salary, there are some things to take into account. Websites that don’t specialize in travel agents but write a “How much do travel agents make?” article don’t understand our industry well enough to truly answer the question.
You’re always going to need to adjust the salary for cost of living but more importantly, what type of travel agent are you talking about? By segmenting by type of travel agent (leisure, corporate, home based… employee, independent contractor, or agency owner), you can come up with an accurate estimate of a travel agent salary.
To help answer the question “How much do travel agents make?”, we’ve broken it down by group:
How much do travel agents make? All of ’em.
For this question, we’re lumping together all travel agents – corporate and leisure, employees and independent contractors. According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the answer to how much do travel agents make is, “As of May 2013, a travel agent salary is $17.88 an hour or $37,200 a year.” This is up significantly from $15.32 an hour ($31,870/year) in May 2010. Read on to find out sectors of the travel agent industry where you can earn more.
We’ll list the updated travel agent salary info when 2014 reports are released (expecting that to be mid-year 2015).
If you’re skeptical about making a career out of being a travel agent, learn more about why a travel agent career is a growing field with great opportunities.
How much do travel agents make? Employees.
The majority of travel agents that work for a travel agency are salaried. In 2010, the ASTA Labor and Compensation report found that 88% of travel agents working at an agency were salaried or earned a mix of salary/commission. For agents on a salary/commission mix, the majority of their earnings (75%) came from salary. What does this mean? This group of travel agent salaries is easier to predict since there is very little commission involved.
The ASTA report found the average employee travel agent salary to be $32,015. We can also break down travel agent employees into two distinct salary groups due to the pay difference- leisure travel agent salaries and corporate travel agent salaries. In 2010, ASTA’s report answered the question of how much do travel agents make with the following stats. Experienced agents that booked primarily corporate travel earned an average salary of $41,909/year versus a salary of $31,601/year for an experienced agent booking primarily leisure travel.
Another important factor to consider when answering “How much does a travel agent make?” is experience level. Seasoned leisure agents bring home roughly $10,000 more compared to their counterparts just entering the industry. Experienced corporate travel agent salaries are nearly $15,000 more a year than newbie corporate agents.
How much do travel agents make? Home based.
The home based travel agent is a new kid on the block in the long history of travel agents. While traditional storefront travel agency numbers have dropped from 2001 to 2006, home based agent numbers have soared from 31,000 to 40,000. Read more on the history and growth of home based travel agents and host agencies.
Nailing down how much this particular segment of travel agents makes is difficult due to the fact many home based travel agencies consist of only the owner. They typically don’t draw an hourly rate and their “travel agent salary” is based solely on the commission and fees earned from bookings – not really a salary.
The ASTA 2010 Independent Agents Report cited 19% of independent contractor agents (typically home based) earn over $50,000 a year. I’d personally caution taking the 19% at face value. The home based demographic is unique because it consists of so many new agents who have little or no income coming in as they build their business. Like most small businesses, it takes most travel agencies a good 3-5 years to start seeing profits they can live off of and a fair share never make it past the first or second year. This dilutes the earnings of the established home based agencies.
To give you some real life numbers, when I was host agency director, there were a few agents making six digits but most of the experienced travel agents were earning $25-$45,000 a year. The new agents that were focused solely on travel for their living usually earned around $5-15,000 their first year. Of course, these are not scientific but it’s a loose guide for what to expect.
Agents that worked in niche markets such as corporate travel or destination weddings earned considerably more. If you’re interested in becoming a travel agent, our host agency list is the place to start.
And let’s complicate things even more. Because why not? You’ve already read this far!
The section on employee travel agent salary is going to give you numbers that will be close to what you can expect if you get hired on. However, when we’re talking about agency owners (for storefronts or home based agencies), the salary numbers are misleading. I feel comfortable saying that the actual salary numbers are probably higher than what the official numbers say.
Why? Two things:
1) Business owners get write-offs. I can write off my office. I can write off my work trips. I can write off my work phone and meals with colleagues where I discuss business. When I do that, it lowers what I report for my taxable income (ahem, salary) to the IRS.
2) Business owners may not be reporting all of their income. Since cash transactions leave no paper trail for the IRS to follow, many small businesses won’t report cash transactions and by doing so, they lower the income/earnings they report to the government.
So, keep those things in mind when you’re looking at the earning potential!
Bonus Slideshow: For those just itching for more, this is the slide deck from a presentation I did on travel agent salaries:
It’s Not All About Money
As you can see, it’s not a simple question of ‘How much do travel agents make?’. Travel agent salaries vary drastically based on a number of factors. It can generally be said that positions in travel offer a lower salary than other industries. However, positions in other industries don’t include travel benefits and working in travel!
Employees at travel agency will usually have a salary cap but those that own their own business, the sky’s the limit. You can’t put a price on visiting beautiful places, touring the newest properties, and the freedom and flexibility to work anywhere that goes with owning your own home based travel agency.
If you’re thinking of joining the industry, drop by our resources section for loads more info.
And, if you like what you read, make sure to join over 3,000 others and sign up for our newsletter for more helpful articles!
If you have any questions on becoming a travel agent or what you can expect, drop me a line. I’m happy to help and have worked with countless people as they transition to the world of owning their own travel agency. And yes, a travel agent is a career. I’ve worked in the host agency field for years and during that time have talked with thousands of agents looking to start a travel agency from home. Ask your questions in the comments below or drop me a line on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.