How Much Do Travel Agents Make? Travel Agent Salary 2020
HAR first published an article on travel agent salary to answer the question, How much do travel agents make? It was published 6 years ago, which is about 60 years in internet time. Thus, it was in need of an update! It's now updated to reflect 2020 travel agent salaries. If you're here, it's probably not your first time around the Google block. So you know that there are many answers to what (you possibly thought) was going to be a simple question.
There is a whoooole lot to consider when looking at how much travel agents make. Average travel agent salaries vary widely according to region—$1 in Minneapolis is worth a measly $.48 in New York but $1.10 in Pittsburgh with cost of living adjustments.
Then, there are major factors such as type of agency or company, job title, niche, experience, and whether or not an agent is an employee or independent.
We're also wary of those job salary websites offering travel agent salary data—the one thing travel industry outsiders don't understand? Most leisure travel agents are now entrepreneurs aligned with a host agency. This is a change from old school days where most travel agents were storefront agency employees. (Unsure about what a host agency is? We have a great explanation of host agencies here!) But even though hosted travel agents are the big players in leisure travel, most external sites don't include hosted agents in their numbers.
Sigh. So it gets even more complicated trying to look at a full picture of travel agent salaries that includes corporate agents, leisure agents, storefront owners and employees, and home based agents. There's not a single answer when someone asks 'How much do travel agents make?' It's kind of like a clown car of travel agent salary possibilities. Once you open the door, you realize just how many possibilities there are.
But don't run away yet. We do have an answer for you! Well, answers, really. Here we'll break down how much a travel agent makes into digestible categories:
- All travel agents (hosted, independent, and employees)
- Employees only
- Corporate travel agent employees only
- Host travel agents only (primarily home based)
So take a seat. Find the fluffiest cotton candy you can, because the travel agent salary circus is about to begin (and it's gonna be great).
How much do travel agents make? All of 'em.
Host Agency Reviews and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found some common ground in regard to the average salary of a travel agent. The BLS currently lists the average travel agent salary in 2018 as $42,720 with a range of $22,370 and $66,080 dividing the lower to upper 10% of travel agents.
These results are similar to our most recent 2019 travel agent income report. We found an average income of $44,312 for hosted travel agents with 3+ years experience. (We'll be releasing the report on 2020 travel agent salary report in the fall 2020.)
That, however, is where our data similarities end. The BLS reported a nominal travel agent salary increase of 2.36% from 2016 to 2017, which barely covers the 2017 2.1% inflation rate. That is FAR from what we see here at Host Agency Reviews, a site that specializes in working with travel agents.
To give you an idea, in 2019, we saw travel agent income surge 10% from the year prior. That looks nothing like the BLS graph below! But, before you think that one of us screwed up our numbers (it was totally the government), there's a reason behind the discrepancy...
79% of travel agents included in the BLS data were employees while only 15% were self-employed1. Host Agency Reviews' travel agent income report focuses on self-employed agents, not employees. The one thing to keep in mind when looking at BLS statistics? They aren't reflective of the income of most travel agents since the majority of leisure travel agent are now self-employed.
But while we're talking about it, let's dive into how much travel agent employees make. It's as good of time as any, right?
How much do travel agents make? Travel agent employees only.
The good news for travel agent employees tend to have a more predictable salary. Travel agent employees' earnings aren't as dependent on fluctuations of sales and the commissions garnered from those sales. It's also more predictable in terms of taxes and tax write-offs (stay tuned for a little more on that).
Since our site specializes in hosted and independent agents, we don't have our own numbers here. So let's look at some external data for this section.
We already chatted a little about the BLS numbers but it's worth noting again: The average 2018 travel agent salary is $42,720, with the top 10% earning around $66k.
The Travel Institute's 2018 study, The Changing Face of Travel Agents, indicated that 37% of travel agent employees earned less than $24,000 annually, 25% earned $24,000 - $59,999 and 18% earned over $60,000.
Now, when it comes to travel agent employees, there's a few different ways they're compensated: salary only, commission only (not very popular), and a combo of salary and commission. The Travel Institute's study reported that 38% of travel agent employees earned a salary only, 45% earned a combination of salary and commission, and 17% of employees earned commission only.
It's important to note that these travel agent employee income ranges do not consider the number of hours travel agent employees worked per week! The same study indicated that, on a weekly basis, 8% of travel agent employees worked fewer than 20 hours, 46% worked 20-40 hours, and 46% worked 40+ hours.
Finding reliable data on travel agent employee salaries can be a bit like a scavenger hunt. In order to provide some more specific salary information, I'm going to dive into some outdated data from ASTA's (American Society of Travel Agents) 2014 Labor and Compensation Report. ASTA found the average employee travel agent salary to be $34,181 at the time.
The same study also divided the averages into two categories: Leisure travel and corporate travel agent employees. The ASTA study found the average experienced corporate employee earned $13,000 more than their inexperienced counterparts. While corporate pays more than leisure, experience can help even the pay gap. Experienced leisure employees enjoyed a $10,000 increase in comparison to their less experienced peers.
These ASTA numbers are their most current available at the time. We promise to update the travel agent salary numbers as soon as we catch whiff of more current data.
How much do travel agents make? Corporate employees & travel managers only.
When it comes to corporate travel agent employees, it's difficult to find concrete data. Zip Recruiter (which operates outside the travel industry) reported as of Aug. 2018 that the average virtual corporate travel agent (employee) salary ranges from $12,500-$100,500 registering an average of $47,877 annually.2 Zip Recruiter does not specify between different pay tiers for corporate travel agents based on title or experience.
Do you have interest in becoming a Corporate Travel Agent? You can sink your teeth into a few juicy tidbits of info here:
- Breaking in to corporate travel
- Our podcast interview with corporate agent Karen Hurlbut:
Looking ahead on the corporate travel agent career trajectory, Travel Manager/Supervisory positions start with a much higher baseline for corporate employees. Business Travel News (BTN) issued a detailed 2018 study among Travel Managers/Supervisors working for corporate entities (not travel agents/agencies)3. The overall average salary for corporate travel manager/supervisor positions registered at $115,306.
This number marks a significant increase, 15.6%, from the 2017 average travel manager salary. The increase indicates a level recovery from their previous 2017 survey which indicated a -15.8% in average travel management salary form the previous year—the most significant decrease since 2004.
BTN accounted for that precipitous drop with a dramatic increase in engagement from new travel managers (less than 3 years experience), and a growing number of small to mid-sized companies participating in the survey.4 Earning potential depends largely on job title and level of experience: The travel manager positions tallied ranged from "Travel manager/coordinator/analyst/buyer" to "C-suite/president/owner," which averaged $70,343 and $166,589 respectively.
How much do travel agents make? Home based.
The previous sections focused on employee travel agents. But what about the hosted travel agents (use another agency's accreditation) and independent travel agents (have their own accreditation), who are by and large home based?
The Travel Institute study indicates a sea change when it comes to independent contractor travel agents (ICs). In their earlier 2008 study, ICs made up 29% of the respondents while employees made up 71%. But these numbers flip flopped in their 2018 study, where 62% were ICs and only 38% employees.
Considering the growth of hosted agents and their impact of the industry at large, there cannot be a complete picture of travel agent income without mentioning this demographic.
This is where we come in. 😊
Our annual Travel Agent Income Survey gives results on both the hosted travel agent sector (those that book under another agency's accreditation). In our 2019 Travel Agent Income Survey, hosted agents with 3+ years experience earned an average of $44,312 in 2019.
Let's close this section with a bang, shall we? Higher earning hosted agents make as much or more than the average corporate employees and travel managers: 10% of hosted agents earned $100,000+ in 2018.
It's also important to consider that the averages do not consider a whooooole lotta context including travel niche, average hours worked, whether or not selling travel was primary income, experience, region, education or any of the myriad factors that impact earning potential.
You can find our no-holds-barred, deep-sea-depth-of-data-detail, hosted agent income data here:
- Travel Agent Income Report (2019)
- Which Travel Agent Specialties Generate the Most Income?
- New to the Industry Income Report (2019)
- Who is the Hosted Travel Agent? (2019)
- Travel Agency Startup Costs and Earnings: What to Expect
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), income/salary numbers can be misleading.
Why? Three things:
- 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 in not doing so, they lower the income/earnings they report to the government.
- 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. Not only that, but travel agents will vary WILDLY in terms of how much of their income they write off. (Take a look at what travel expenses you can (and can't) write off.)
- Salary and income are separate things for some business structures. Depending on the agency's business structure, the owner may pay themselves a salary (say $45k) but the income of the company may actually be much higher.
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 Steph did on travel agent salaries. It's a blast form the past (from 2013, to be exact), but it still has helpful info!
One thing all the surveys agree on . . . it's about more than the almighty dollar
Phew. Wow. We looked at travel agent salaries from a whole bunch of different perspectives. You made it through the spinning, twirling madness of the data circus. It's kinda fun right? Whereas trying to determine a consistent travel agent salary is impossible, one thing is consistent among all the surveys: travel agents are happy regardless of how much they earn.
The Travel Institute found 95% of employees and 96% of ICs were at least somewhat happy (with agents reporting "very happy" at a 65% and 66% rate respectively). Our income survey echoed this sentiment, with 97% of surveyed agents reporting they were at least somewhat satisfied (37% happy and satisfied and 38% super happy and satisfied).
Travel managers even expressed job satisfaction when income averages were lower in 2016, BTN reported that, "Even with lower salaries, general satisfaction with pay is about the same as last year's survey. Plus, twice as many respondents [in 2017] said they were 'very well recognized' by their companies."
As you can see, it's not a simple question of How much do travel agents make?—in 2020, 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.
💕 If you're thinking of joining the industry, here's a few resources you're gonna love: 💕
- Starting a travel agency from home article
- Free 15-page travel agency business plan template
- Our free 7 Day Set Up: Get your agency set up in 7 days!
- Source: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/travel-agents.htm#tab-3 ↩
- Source: Zip Recruiter, "To estimate the most accurate annual salary range for Virtual Corporate Travel Agent jobs, ZipRecruiter continuously scans its database of millions of active jobs published locally throughout America." At the time of writing this, there were 1,862+ "Virtual Corporate Travel Agent" jobs listed on Zip Recruiter. ↩
- Source: "BTN has disqualified travel agent respondents and removed incomplete surveys and outliers, both high and low, as all those responses would have skewed results. ↩
- Source: ↩