The 2020 Hosted Travel Agent Fee Report [+Infographic]
We have good news. With the collaborative efforts between organizations like ASTA (American Society of Travel Advisors) and our host agency friends, travel advisors turned out in droves for Host Agency Reviews’ (HAR’s) 2020 Travel Agent Fee Survey.
How large are droves? Honestly, I’m fuzzy on those details. I’ll just get specific and say that HAR received over 1,000 responses to our 2020 survey! We received so much great data that we’re creating content specific to certain travel agent segments.
First up: The hosted travel agent.
86% of our survey respondents were hosted agents. Who were these hosted agents?
Here’s a sneak preview:
This is just the beginning, and we can’t wait to dig in and answer questions about how factors such as industry experience, niche, agency model (and much more) impacted fees.
But hold the phone. After our survey closed, a weird thing called COVID-19 happened (you may have caught wind of this). Never in the deepest folds of my brain did I imagine an impact of that magnitude would hit the travel industry.
So here’s the deal. We’re going to take a deep dive into hosted agents most current fee-charging practices. But please keep in consideration that this data captures a moment in time before the pandemic. Next year, we’ll look at how COVID-19 may have impacted fee-charging practices.
Infographic: Hosted Travel Agent Fee Report Overview
Per usual, we’re serving up data, multimedia style. This infographic offers a visual summary of our survey. Some might call it the Mona Lisa of infographics (or maybe that’s just me).
Great data! But don’t jump ship, because we have a lot more info to come.
⭐️ HAR ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS: ⭐️
- Fee Survey Primer
- How Many Hosted Agents Charge Fees?
- What Service Fees do Hosted Agents Charge (and How Much?)
- What Consultation Fees do Hosted Agents Charge (and How Much?)
- Agency Models of Hosted Agents, and How it Relates to Fees
- Experience and Likelihood to Charge Fees
- Hosted Agents Who Do Not Charge Fees
- Hosted Fee Survey Takeaways
- A Glossary of Terms
Fee Survey Primer
Our survey explored every nook and cranny of fee charging practices. But before we dive into results, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page when it comes to definitions.
In our survey, we explored two types of fees:
- Service Fees: Typically flat fees per transaction/ segment of a trip (i.e. car, rail, air, hotel, change fee etc.).
- Consultation Fees: Commonly pertain to time/expertise used to plan, research, or book a trip and/or support clients during their trip.
Additionally, in this report we’re going to throw around words like median, mode, and interquartile range (the scariest one, in my opinion).
I understand you probably didn’t get into the travel industry because of your love for statistics, or for an added edge in your Scrabble game. But don’t worry, all you need to do is click on the word and you’ll be taken to a short lay-person-friendly definition. You can try it right here! Interquartile range.
See? So easy. Okay, back to our regular programming.
How Many Hosted Agents Charge Fees?
Let’s cut to the chase: 52% of hosted agents reported charging a fee and 48% charged no fee. The amount of fee-charging hosted agents increased 5% from our prior fee survey results in 20181. *High five!* to valuing their time and expertise!
52% of hosted agents reported charging a fee, a 5% increase from the prior survey.
Among the 52% of hosted agents who charged a fee:
In 2020 there was an increase in the percentage of hosted agents who charged in each of the three fee categories including; a 4% increase in agents who charged service fees, and a nominal 1% increase among those who charged a consultation fee and among those who charged both a service and consultation fee.
This indicates that, overall, the types of fees hosted agents charged hasn’t changed much since 2018.
Why Do Hosted Agents Charge Fees?
To better understand agents’ motivations for charging fees, this year we asked travel agents, "Why do you charge fees?"
Here’s the top 4 reasons hosted agents charged fees in 2020 (agents were allowed to select more than one choice, so the combined results are over 100%):
Hosted agents’ primary motivation for charging fees was to value their time and expertise, leading the second most common response by 36%.
If you’re curious to dig into why you might consider charging fees, we have a ton of resources for you:
- Read here to get a grasp on how to communicate with your clients about the value of booking with a travel agent (rather than online agency).
- Do you need a little extra encouragement to charge fees? Check out, "Taking the Plunge: A Travel Agent’s Guide to Charging Fees" here.
- Read our latest income survey results, "Travel Agent Income Report, 2019," for a big-picture look at travel agent income
What Service Fees do Hosted Agents Charge (and How Much?)
42% of hosted agents charged a service fee2. This is a 4% increase from our prior results.
81% of hosted agents who charged fees reported charging service fees, making it the most popular fee category among hosted agents in 2020.
Of the hosted agents who charged fees, 81% reported charging service fees.
What type of bookings did hosted agents charge service fees for?
Here’s a list of the types of bookings and the percentage of hosted agents who reported charging for that particular booking type. We also give the median fee, and the interquartile (IQ) range (don’t forget to click on word to check out the glossary term!):
How do these results compare to HAR’s prior survey? Here’s a few points of interest:
- The order of the top five booking categories agents charged for was identical to HAR’s prior results, with one exception: in 2018, charging for rail was more common than charging for tour packages. (See the infographic for a complete list of 2020 results)
- For each of the five booking types except “Rail Tickets,” hosted agents reported at a higher rate that they charged fees in 2020 compared to 2018. Domestic air increased by 13%; international air increased by 14%; FIT increased by 8%; tour packages increased by 5%; and rail tickets stayed level at 16%.
- The median fees charged for the top 5 bookings were the same as 2018 with two exceptions: Rail ticketing fees increased $3 in 2020, and the median fee for tour packages increased significantly from $63 to $100.
- Another notable change from HAR’s prior results is that the median charge for booking cruises doubled (from $50 to $100) from 2018 results. (See infographic for details on 2020 cruise fees.)
The data indicates that in 2020, hosted agents trended toward increasing and diversifying the types of bookings they charged for despite a modest increase in hosted agents who reported charging service fees (4%). Hurray!
What Consultation Fees do Hosted Agents Charge (and How Much?)
The overall percentage of hosted agents charging a consultation fee increased from our 2018 results: 26% of hosted agents reported charging a consultation fee in 2020 compared to 24% in 2018—a 2% increase.3 This modest increase from 2018 follows the same trend as service fees.
However, when compared to service fees, hosted agents were less likely to charge a consultation fee: Among hosted agents who charged a fee, 51% charged a consultation fee. This is 37% lower than those who charged a service fee.
The majority of hosted agents who charged consultation fees reported that their fees varied depending on the type of trip. Below is a breakdown of the percentage of hosted agents who charged for each consultation fees category. When we had enough data, we also included the median low and median high range for those with varied fees4:
Flat fees were the most common consultation fee type. Hosted agents who charged a flat fee increased from 65% in 2018 to 77% in 2020.
The majority of hosted agents charged a one-time flat fee (98%). The remaining 2% reported charging a flat fee per day. While most hosted agents reported charging a varied fee, among those whose flat fee did not vary, the median charge was $125.
This year HAR added a “plan-to-go” fee option to our survey in addition to our usual suspects listed above.
A plan-to-go fee is an upfront payment agents require from clients in order to render their services. The plan-to-go fee—in full or in part—is then applied to the booking if the traveler decides to book through the agent.
29% of hosted agents reported charging a plan-to-go fee.
Plan-to-go fees varied among hosted agents. Among hosted agents who charged a plan-to-go fee:
- 68% applied the entire fee to the booking
- 20% applied a certain dollar amount to the booking
- 12% applied a certain percentage to the booking.
Agency Models of Hosted Agents, and How it Relates to Fees
Travel agents run their agencies in diverse ways. Here’s a some big-picture data on the business models of hosted agents, how many hours they work, and how these factors impacted their likelihood to charge fees:
Home Based vs Storefront
Agency location had a large impact on the tendency to charge fees. Storefront agencies were much more likely to charge fees, 75% compared to 51% for home based agencies.
Storefront agencies were much more likely to charge fees, 75% compared to 51% for home based agencies.
However, this 24% gap between home based and storefront agents has narrowed significantly from 2018, when there was a 35% difference between the two. In 2020, fewer storefront agencies reported charging fees (75% compared to 80%), opposed to home based agencies who reported at a higher rate in 2020 (51% compared to 45%).
Corporate vs Leisure
98% of hosted agents who completed the survey were leisure agents. These results are equal to those in 2018.
The majority of corporate travel agents charged a fee (92%), marking a much greater likelihood to charge fees compared to leisure agents (92% compared to 51%, respectively).
While 49% of leisure agents reported booking air-only travel, only 64% of those who booked air-only reported charging a fee.
When it came to ticketing fees, corporate travel agents charged more than their leisure counterparts5: Corporate agents’ median fee for domestic air was $40 compared to a $35 median fee among leisure agents.
Full Time vs. Part Time
59% of hosted agents who completed our survey worked full time (30+ hours) in 2020, compared to 41% who reported working part-time.
The more agents worked, the more likely they were to charge fees. 60% of full time agents reported charging fees compared to 39% of part time agents.
Fee Practices According to Niche
An agent’s niche also had strong influence over fee charging practices. In 2020, the top 5 niches to charge fees were:
The top 5 niches were the same in 2020 as they were in 2018, but their ranking changed6: Groups moved up to 2nd place (from 5th in 2018). Luxury fell from 2nd to 3rd, and destination specialists dropped from 3rd to 5th.
While ocean cruises was the most popular niche among hosted agents, ocean cruise agents were unlikely to charge a fee, ranking second to last of 14 different niches. Disney agents were least likely to charge fees. (See our full infographic for complete details on niche and likelihood to charge fees.)
ASTA Membership & Likelihood to Charge Fees:
Industry engagement had a strong correlation to charging fees. 51% of hosted agents reported belonging to a travel association. Among the agents affiliated with a travel association, 98% belonged to ASTA and/or ASTA-SBN.
Hosted agents who belonged to ASTA were more likely to charge fees, 61% compared to 52% overall.
Experience and Likelihood to Charge Fees
In our 2020 Fee Survey, 54 years was the median age reported by hosted agents, and 5 years was the median years of experience reported.
Experienced hosted agents7 were much more likely to charge fees than new agents. Only 40% of new hosted agents reported charging fees compared to 57% for experienced hosted agents.
Below, the chart compares experience to the likelihood to charge fees. The trend is similar to prior years’ results, with more agents charging fees as they gain experience.
While this report focuses on hosted agents, it’s worth noting that new independent agents were much more likely to charge fees than new hosted agents. However, the gap between hosted and independent agents narrowed as hosted agents gained experience.
Hosted Agents Who Do Not Charge Fees
Among respondents who reported charging no fees, 92% were hosted agents. Here are the top reported reasons hosted agents did not charge fees in 2020 (agents were able to select more than one choice):
Client attraction and retention was the primary reason that hosted agents didn’t charge fees. This varies from the 2018 results, when hosted agents were more concerned with their experience level8
Age also was a determining factor in likelihood to charge fees. With exception of the 70+ age demographic, agents were more likely to report charging (services) fees as their reported age increased9.
Do Hosted Agents Plan to Charge Fees?
This was the first year we asked about future prospects of charging fees. When asked, Do you plan to start charging fees in the next 12 months?, 13% of hosted agents replied “yes,” 42% replied “maybe,” and 45% replied “no.”
Hosted agents were more likely than independent agents to express an intent to charge fees in the next year.
Hosted Fee Survey Takeaways
Wow. That was a lot of data to process! Below are a few survey highlights that illustrate some of latest trends and changes in charging fees in 2020:
- 5% overall increase in hosted agents who reported charging fees from 2018
- 3% increase in hosted agents that charged service fees and a 1% increase in hosted agents that charged consultation fees, when compared to 2018
- The top 5 bookings to which hosted agents applied service fees were identical to results from 2018. However, in 2020, a higher percentage of hosted agents reported charging in each of the 5 booking categories. This indicates that hosted agents increased and diversified the types of services they charged for in 2020.
- Median service fees for tour packages and ocean cruises increased significantly in 2020, 59% and 100% respectively.
- Hosted agents who charged a fee were less likely to charge a consultation fee compared to service fees (51% compared to 81%).
- Hosted agents who charged a flat fee increased from 65% in 2018 to 77% in 2020
- Storefront agencies were more likely to charge fees than their home based counterparts in 2020. While this is a significant gap, it has narrowed since 2018, when storefront agencies were almost twice as likely to charge.
HAR had a lot of help in drawing agents to our survey, and we couldn’t have provided this data without them. Who are these good samaritans of the travel industry?
- Nexion Travel Group
- Oasis Travel Network
- Travel Planners International
- Travel Quest Network
- Uniglobe Travel Center
- Outside Agents
Stay tuned because there is a heckuva lot more information to come, including results for independent agents, and a report report that digs into the relationship between demographics and charging fees! We'll keep you posted!
A Glossary of Terms
- Interquartile Range (IQ): A typical "range" shows us the lowest and highest fee. But the interquartile range helps us remove outliers in order to get a clearer picture of moderate fee-charging practices. This isn’t to discount your fee strategy if you charge $1,000 for fee for international air, or if you only charge $2 to grandma Matilda because she pays you (literally) in dimes. It’s just to help give a clearer picture of what the “average” hosted agent is charging. For those really nerding out, the Interquartile Range measures the range between the 25th and 75th% percentile. This means the range excludes the data from the lowest 25% and the highest 25%, eliminating the lower and upper outliers and offering a picture of more moderate fee charging practices.
- Median: The median is the middle value in the set of numbers. (That’s right, the middle child of data!) We used the median value to determine age and years of experience. This helped us get a clearer picture of the “average” agent, by eliminating outliers that skew the data.
- Median Range: When we offer a median range the numbers reflect the spread between the most common lowest fee and the most common highest fee reported by our respondents in our survey.
- Mode: The mode is the number that appears most often in a set of numbers. For our purposes, it means that it was the most frequently-occurring response among travel agents who answered the question. We used mode to determine the most common amount charged for certain service fees, in order to give a clearer picture of what the “typical” agent is most likely to charge.
- Why no 2019 results? We conducted our 2018 at the end of year and published the results early 2019. After that, we modified our survey schedule, releasing it in Jan. 2020 rather than late 2019 ↩
- Of the 42% of hosted agents who charged service fee, over one third (38%) charged both a service fee and consultation fee ↩
- Among hosted agents who charged a consultation fee, 62% charged both a service fee and consultation fee. ↩
- For varied fees, respondents had an opportunity to input an amount for lowest charge and highest charge. The median low, is the median of all “lowest fee” responses and the median high is the median of all “highest fee” responses. For categories, ”Hourly Fee” and “Other,” we did not have enough data to provide a median fee and/or a median low and median high range ↩
- HAR considers air ticketing the “commodity” item of fees, similar to how people may use the price of milk as a reflection for the overall cost of groceries. ↩
- Accessible Travel ranked as the #4 niche most likely to charge a fee, however we did not receive enough data from that segment to provide reliable results ↩
- We consider “experienced agents” those with 3+ years experience ↩
- This ranked #2 in 2018 for reason not to charge fees ↩
- This data excludes hosted agents between ages of 18 and 30 as we didn’t receive enough data from that demographic ↩