Hosted Travel Agent Fee Report, 2021
The landscape of travel agent fees is ever-evolving. Our 2021 hosted travel agent report takes a deep dive into fee-charging practices among this advisor segment. How many hosted advisors charged fees? What fees did they charge? How did business operations (such as hours worked, niche, and experience) impact the likelihood to charge? These are the questions we’ll explore, with answers backed up by data from 1,000+ travel advisor respondents.
76% of our 1,000+ survey respondents were hosted.
76% of our 1,000+ survey respondents were hosted. This is the advisor segment our fee report will review. Here’s a visual of the hosted segment profiled here:
Fee Summary: Two Big Takeaways of Hosted Advisor Fees in 2021
Host Agency Reviews has been reporting data on travel agent fees since 2016. Our survey explored every nook and cranny of fee-charging practices. In our survey, we explored two types of fees:
1. Service Fees: Typically, flat fees per transaction/ segment of a trip (i.e. car, rail, air, hotel, change fee etc.).
2. Consultation Fees: Commonly pertain to time/expertise used to plan, research, or book a trip and/or support clients during their trip.
In 2021, we noticed a dip in the percentage of advisors charging fees compared to prior years, with 40% reporting they charged fees.
In HAR’s 2021 survey, 32% of hosted, non-fee charging advisors reported they’d implement a fee, a drastic 19-point increase from our 2020 survey.
In part, more advisors reported they didn’t charge fees due to a precipitous drop in bookings at COVID’s onset (the timeframe which the survey reviewed). However, this decline was offset by a much higher motivation to begin charging fees.
In our 2021 survey, 32% of hosted non-chargers reported they’d implement a fee, a drastic 19-point increase from our 2020 survey when only 13% of hosted advisors reported the same. This indicates the pandemic likely played a role in motivating non-chargers to stabilize their income with fees.
Additionally, median fees among hosted advisors for ticketing services largely remained steady (e.g. international ticketing, refunds, and special coupons) or increased slightly from the prior year (domestic air, exchanges, frequent flyer bookings). Cancellations were the only ticketing fees that decreased.
Below we’ll take a deep dive into the fee-practices that sparked these latest trends. Here’s what to expect:
⭐️ HAR ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS: ⭐️
- Fee Summary: Two Big Takeaways of Hosted Advisor Fees in 2021
- Infographic Overview: Hosted Travel Agent Fees
- How Many Hosted Agents Charged Fees?
- What Service Fees did Hosted Agents Charge (and How Much?)
- What Consultation Fees did Hosted Agents Charge (and How Much?)
- Agency Operations and How it Impacted Fees
- Experience and Likelihood to Charge Fees
- Why Hosted Agents Charged Fees
- Hosted Agents Who Did Not Charge Fees
- HAR Industry Supporter Shoutout
- A Glossary of Terms
Infographic: Hosted Travel Agent Fees
Per usual, we’re serving up data, multimedia style. This infographic offers a visual summary of our survey.
Great data! But don’t jump ship, because we have a lot more info to come.
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.
How Many Hosted Advisors Charged Fees?
Let’s cut to the chase: 40% of hosted agents reported charging a fee and 60% charged no fee. Here’s the full breakdown of which types of fees hosted advisors charged:
This marked a 12-point drop from last year when 52% of hosted advisors charged fees. A 12-point drop in the percentage of hosted advisors charging fees ended an uninterrupted increase in fee-charging since we started our surveys in 2016. (Revisit our hosted travel agent fee summary for an explanation of what may have prompted this decline.)
First, we’ll take a look at service fees.
What Service Fees Did Hosted Advisors Charge (and How Much?)
31% of all hosted advisors reported charging a service fee in HAR’s latest survey. In our survey, we grouped our questions about service fees into two categories, air-ticketing fees, and non-air ticketing fees.
Hosted advisors favored per booking fees over per person fees for every type of booking service.
Below is a closer look at fee trends for these two categories of service fees.
1. AIRLINE TICKETING FEES
Air ticketing is a low-to-no commission product for advisors, so it’s no surprise that ticketing fees have registered as the most common service charge among hosted advisors year over year.
Below, you can see which air ticketing fees were most common among hosted advisors and the median fee for each type of air-ticketing service. (The percentages look at those who reported charging service fees):
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. For this reason, we use air ticketing fees as a reference point for fee-charging behaviors over time. Below we compare the current median fees to those from our survey last year:
As pictured, hosted advisors’ median airline ticketing fees have primarily stayed level. The exceptions are exchanges and frequent flyer bookings (which increased) and cancellation fees, which decreased.
2. NON-AIR TICKETING FEES
Hosted advisor fees varied for non-air ticketing services. Among those who charged fees, the top three (non-air) ticketing services were
- FITs, 54%
- Air-inclusive packages, 34%
- Tours packages, 29%
In our survey, we asked respondents whether they charged per booking fees or per person fees. Hosted advisors favored per booking fees over per person fees for every type of booking service.
Overall, the most common per person service fee was $50 regardless of product.
The table below ranks which non-air ticketing fees host advisors were most likely to charge, including the per booking and per person medians:
Per person fees were less variable than per booking services. Overall, the most common (mode) per person service fee was $50 regardless of product. Accommodation only, car only, rail tickets, and shore excursions all landed below the $50 threshold. With a $100/pp median fees, FITs were the only products to sit above the $50 baseline.
In our 2020 survey, we didn’t specify whether services were per booking or per person, so we’re unable to compare the shift in trends over time. Stay tuned for next year!
What Consultation Fees Did Hosted Agents Charge (and How Much?)
Overall, 20% of hosted advisors charged a consultation fee, a 6-point decrease from 2019 when 26% of hosted advisors charged a consultation fee.
Among those who charged consultation fees, the overwhelming majority, 81%, opted for a flat fee (one-time or per day).
Here are a few other notable traits on different consultation fees among hosted advisors:
1. Flat Fees:
99% of those who charged a flat fee opted for a one-time fee rather than a per-day fee.
99% of hosted adviors who charged a flat fee opted for a one-time fee.
59% of advisors who charged a flat fee reported having a variable rate. (This offers advisors the flexibility to adjust the fee based on the length or complexity of the trip.)
2. Per Person Fees:
Of those who charged, 96% of hosted advisors opted for a one-time fee rather than a daily per person fee.
57% of advisors who charged a per person reported having a variable rate.
57% of advisors who charged a per person reported having a variable rate. (This offers advisors the flexibility to adjust the fee based on the length or complexity of the trip rather than charging a daily flat fee.)
3. Hourly Fees:
Hourly fees are the least common consultation fee type among hosted advisors. Departing from other consultation fees, those who charged hourly fees were unlikely to have variable charges. 75% reported a fixed hourly rate.
I like to think of plan-to-go fees as the “car diagnostics” of the travel world. If you take your car to a mechanic for diagnostics, but end up fixing your car yourself or somewhere else, you’ll still need to pay that fee. But if you do fix your car with the mechanic, they’ll likely wrap it into their maintenance.
Plan-to-go fees are similar. It’s a consultation fee charged to clients to compensate an advisor for time spent planning and consulting in the event the client doesn’t book through them. A plan-to-go fee—in full or in part—is then applied to the booking if the traveler decides to book through the agent.
25% of hosted advisors charged a plan-to-go fee. This is a 4-point drop from last year.
In 2020, only 25% of fee-charging advisors reported having a plan-to-go fee. As shown below, hosted advisors differed in how they structured their plan-to-go fee:
Agency Operations and How it Impacted Fees
Here are 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.
AGENCY LOCATION HOME-BASED VS STOREFRONT:
Hosted advisors overwhelmingly operated home-based agencies, 97% compared to only 3% who were storefront advisors. Agency location had a large impact on the tendency to charge fees. The graph below illustrates these trends:
Home-based advisors were less likely to charge fees, 37% compared to the 52% of storefront advisors who charged. However, the 15-point gap between home-based and storefront agents has narrowed significantly from 2019, when a 24-point gap separated these two segments.
All considered both home-based and storefront hosted advisors charged at significantly lower rates compared to last year (a 14-point drop and a 23-point drop respectively).
CORPORATE VS LEISURE:
All (100%) of hosted advisors who sold corporate travel exclusively charged fees, and 38% of leisure-only advisors charged. Advisors who sold both corporate and leisure charged at a 51% rate.
Below the graph indicates the percentage of corporate advisors that sold leisure, corporate, or both as well as what percentage charged service fees.
FULL-TIME VS. PART-TIME:
Typically, full-time advisors are much more likely to charge fees, and this year was no exception. Before the COVID outbreak, 47% of full-time advisors charged fees compared to 26% of part-time peers who charged.
Before the COVID outbreak, 47% of full-time hosted advisors charged fees compared to 26% of part-time peers who charged.
This gap between full-time and part-time advisors dramatically narrowed from 21 points to 10 points after the pandemic outbreak. During the pandemic, 45% of full-time advisors charged fees compared to 35% of part-time advisors. Here is a visual below:
A high volume of full-time hosted advisors dropped to part-time work during COVID, which artificially exacerbated the percentage of part-time hosted advisors charging trends.
FEE PRACTICES ACCORDING TO NICHE:
An agent’s niche also had a strong influence over fee-charging practices. In 2020, the top 5 niches to charge fees were:
1. Weddings/ Honeymoons: 59%
2. Adventure Travel: 57%
3. Luxury: 55%
4. Destination Specialist: 45%
5. Other: 44%
The top 5 niches categories that reported charging fees were some of the least common specialties reported among hosted travel advisors. This aligns with the motivation to charge for expertise, with hosted advisors more likely to charge if they focused on a less common specialty.
In contrast, hosted advisors with more common specialties were less likely to charge. For example, while ocean cruises was the most popular niche among hosted agents, this segment was least likely to charge a fee2.
ASSOCIATION MEMBERSHIP & LIKELIHOOD TO CHARGE FEES:
Industry engagement had a strong correlation to charging fees. 73% of hosted agents reported belonging to a travel association in 2020.
42% of hosted advisors who belonged to a travel association charged fees
42% of hosted advisors who belonged to a travel association charged fees, whereas only 26% among those without association membership reported charging fees.
The overwhelming majority of hosted advisors belonged to ASTA (64%) or CLIA (60%). However, hosted advisors belonged to a variety of associations. (Check our Hosted Travel Agent Income Report for the full breakdown of association membership.)
Hosted advisors who belonged to an association were more likely to charge fees. 42% of hosted advisors who belonged to a travel association charged fees compared to only 26% charging among those without association membership.
Experience and Likelihood to Charge Fees
Hosted advisors had a median of 5 years’ experience. With the exception of the most experienced hosted advisors (15+ years experience), those with more years under their belt were more likely to charge fees.
You can see the full details below:
Why Hosted Agents Charged Fees
To better understand agents’ motivations for charging fees, we asked why travel agents charged fees. Here’s the top 4 reasons hosted agents charged fees (agents were allowed to select more than one choice, so the combined results are over 100%):
1. My time and expertise is worth it: 35%
2. Weed out 'tire kickers': 21%
3. To stabilize my income: 11%
4. Sell low or no commission products: 6%
Hosted agents’ primary motivation for charging fees was to value their time and expertise, which was the top response last year as well. Below you can see all the responses tallied:
Hosted Agents Who Did Not Charge Fees
60% of hosted advisors did not charge fees. When looking at all surveyed advisor segments (hosted, independent, and franchisees), hosted advisors made up the bulk of those who reported charging no fees (73%).
Here we look at the 60% of hosted advisors who reported charging no fees to examine their hesitations to charging and likelihood to charge fees in the future.
Below the graph indicates why hosted advisors didn’t charge fees:
Client attraction and retention was the primary reason that hosted agents didn’t charge fees (which were also the top two reasons last year).
HAR Survey Supporter Shoutout
A colossal thank you to these partner travel organizations: American Society of Travel Advisors, Association of Black Travel Professionals, CCRA, Destination Wedding Honeymoon Specialist Association, Ensemble Travel Group, Gifted Travel Network, Nexion Travel Group, Outside Agents, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Travel Quest Network, Travel Leaders Network, Travel Pulse, and Travel Research Online.
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 middle value of the lowest fee entries and the middle value of the 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.