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 yet another that stated a number in the 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 according to cost of living, but, more importantly, this conversation begs the question, What type of travel agent are you talking about? By segmenting travel agents according to their category (leisure, corporate, home based, employee, independent contractor, or agency owner), you can come up with a more 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.
From this angle, we’re lumping together all travel agents—corporate and leisure, employees and independent contractors.
As of Dec. 2015, and according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), the answer to how much do travel agents make? is this (drumroll please): “The median annual wage for travel agents was $34,800 in May 2014” (this salary equates to $16.73/hr)1.
But whoa. Hold the phone. These numbers are a little deceiving: According a BLS report released in March 2015, “Occupational Employment and Wages—May 2014,”2 the average wage of a travel agent is $18.14.hr or $37,730 annually. Definitely a more promising number (and a slight increase from the 2013 BLS report of $17.88/hr or $37,200/yr).
However, according to BLS, “This wage data includes money earned from commissions.” This means that their data does not discern between a veteran travel agent who has a large book of business and a newer agent who may dabble in selling travel on the side. So the earnings they report fluctuate in a major way, with “The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,680, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $59,070.” Lots of numbers, but don’t stress! That’s what we’re here for—to help provide a more accurate picture.
We’ll list the updated travel agent salary info when 2015 reports are released (expected to be mid-year 2016). 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 2015, the ASTA Labor and Compensation report stated that in 2014, 86% of travel agents working at an agency (including both corporate and leisure agencies) were either salaried or earned a mix of salary/commission 3. For agents on a salary/commission mix, the majority of their earnings (72%) came from salary. What does this mean? This group of travel agent salaries is easier to predict since there are fewer commissions involved.
The ASTA report found the average employee travel agent salary to be $34,181. 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 2015, ASTA’s report further explored agent earning by breaking it down into the two categories. Experienced agents that booked primarily corporate travel earned an average salary of $40,677/year versus a salary of $32,249/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 $13,000 more per year compared to their newbie corporate peers.
How much do travel agents make? Home based.
The home based travel agent is the 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.
It’s hard to really nail down how much this particular segment of travel agents earn due to the fact that most home based travel agencies consist of one agent (the owner). They typically don’t draw an hourly rate and their “travel agent salary” is usually based on the company’s profits (income less expenses like advertising, utilities, equipment, travel, etc.)—hardly comparable to a typical employee’s salary.
The ASTA 2014 Independent Agents Report cited that the average independent contractor agent (86% of which are home based) earns $31,056 a year. I’d personally caution against taking this statistic at face value: The home based demographic is unique because it consists of 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.
In fact, ASTA reported a HUGE salary range for home-based agents. The minimum was $8,500/yr and the maximum was $80,000/yr. Keep in mind that again, this is their profit after taking all their tax deductions for their business.
To give you some real life numbers, when I was host agency director, there were a few agents making six figures but most of the experienced travel agents were earning $25-$45,000 a year and working at least 30 hours a week. New agents that who relied solely on selling 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 at an agency. 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 quite a bit 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:
ASTA’s Travel Agent Salary Tool
Now that you realize there’s quite a bit of flexibility in the numbers—especially if you’re looking to be self-employed—I’ll send you to this nifty travel agent salary tool that ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) whipped up.
They’ve got loads of data on travel agent salaries that they pull from. They just ask you to input a few details:
- Position (Travel agent, new travel agent, managerial with sales duties, managerial w/o sales duties)
- Business type/Size of Agency/or State
And WA-BAM! they spit out some numbers on how much travel agents make according to your specifications. Just remember, take the numbers with a grain of salt.
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 be said, in general, 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 a travel agency will usually have a salary cap, but for those who own their own business, the sky’s the limit. Plus, it’s hard to 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.
Editor’s Note on “How Much Do Travel Agents Make? A Travel Agent Salary”: This post was originally published May 4, 2012 and has been completely updated and revamped on February 3, 2016 to make sure we’re giving you up-to-date info. Enjoy!…
Questions? Ask Away.
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Hi, I’m Steph! I specialize in working with people looking to start and/or grow their travel agencies. I’ve worked with thousands of agents and helped them learn more about the travel industry… and I’m happy to help you out too. If you’ve found this article helpful, please help give it some love via like/tweet/share or drop us a comment! Learn More About Steph>>