How Much Do Travel Agents Make? Travel Agent Salary 2023
How much do travel agents make? is a simple question with a complicated answer. So I'd like to start off with a video trailer to help answer the question
The video offers a glimpse, but there's a whoooole lot to consider when looking at how much travel agents earn. Beyond the more obvious factors (like working hours or having more experience), here are a few things that impact income.
- Employee vs. Independent? The vast majority of leisure travel agents are now independent contractor entrepreneurs who align with a host agency. This is a change from the old-school days when most travel agents were storefront agency employees. Why does this matter? Because there are going to be a lot more factors that impact income for those who run their own business compared to employees who clock in and out of a 9-5.
- Travel Agent Niche: A corporate advisor will typically earn a higher salary than leisure/vacation travel agents. However, within the leisure sector, niche makes a big difference. Adventure and luxury travel, for example, earned higher averages than family and Disney travel in 2022.
- Time investment and industry experience: Independent advisors who set their own schedules work varied hours. Time investment also has a huge impact on earning potential. This is the same for industry experience, with advisors typically earning more as they get a foothold in the industry.
The thing with travel advisors in the 21st century is that there is no "norm." There are always more exceptions than rules, which is one of the great joys of becoming a travel agent. Organizations outside the industry that report on travel agent salaries are ill-equipped to offer a nuanced picture. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics, for example, doesn't even include self-employed travel advisors in their data, even though it is, by and large, the most popular pathway to becoming a travel agent.
Organizations reporting on travel agent salaries outside the travel industry aren’t aware of the nuances of our field.
So that’s why we’re here! :) As a company that focuses solely on travel advisors, we’ll break down some of those nuances so you can get a more accurate picture of travel agent salaries. We’re going to dig into some in-house data to break down travel agent salaries and earnings into digestible categories. Here’s what you can expect:
- ALL travel agents (hosted, independent, and employees)
- Independent travel agents (includes hosted travel agents and independently accredited agents who are self-employed).
- Travel agent employees (advisors who get 'ye old W2, employed by a travel agency)
So take a seat. Pour a waterfall of melted butter on a mountain of popcorn and settle in! Here's more info, below!
How Much Do Travel Agents Make? All of 'Em.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) data has shown a 26% increase in travel advisor salaries over the past decade. The graph below illustrates how it's increased over time.
The BLS’ latest numbers (2023) reported an average travel agent salary of $46,4001. This year, that number landed much higher than HAR’s average. Here’s a few reasons why:
- BLS only profiles employees. The BLS site sums it up: here “Estimates do not include self-employed workers.” When calculating annual incomes. We survey full-time and part-time self-employed travel agents in addition to employees.
- BLS only looks at full-time travel agents. Here's how they crunch their numbers, "Annual wages have been calculated by multiplying the hourly mean wage by a 'year-round, full-time' hours." HAR's income average for all travel agents falls lower because we look at part-time travel agents as well.2
So we took a look at the BLS data, which you now know skews heavily towards employees and doesn’t reflect the true industry landscape where the majority of travel advisors are self-employed. The graph below offers a counterpoint to the BLS data. Host Agency Reviews' in-house survey profiled 95% of self-employed advisors and 5% of employees.
Here's a birds-eye view of average income when looking at self-employed AND employee income.
Our site helps travel agencies start and grow their travel agencies so our readers skew heavily toward entrepreneurs. There’s also another huge reason HAR’s survey data on travel agent salaries are different than what the BLS reports.
When homing in on experienced and full-time advisors, results from HAR’s 2023 survey clock in higher than the BLS number, with data indicating that full-time advisors earned a $56,632 annual average.
Since it’s hard to get precise information bundling all advisor categories together (corporate/leisure, employee/self-employed), we’ll take a more detailed look at average travel agent salaries for self-employed advisors, travel advisor employees, travel managers, and corporate travel advisors. We want to cover all our bases!
How Much Do Travel Agents Make? Self-Employed Travel Agents
Self-employed travel advisors are those who run their own businesses (rather than work as an employee).
I’m going to throw some industry lingo at you now. Are you ready? The self-employed category contains two primary segments of advisors:
- Hosted advisors (those who use another agency’s accreditation number, called a host agency) and
- Independently accredited travel advisors (those who have their own travel accreditation).
Here’s the big picture you need to know about self-employed advisors. Over time, the number of self-employed advisors has been growing exponentially, while the number of storefront travel agencies has decreased over time. In particular, hosted advisors and the host agencies that support them have become the leading path to bringing new talent to the travel agent distribution channel.
Our annual Travel Agent Income Survey gives results on both the hosted and independently-accredited travel advisor segment. In our 2022, full-time hosted advisors with 3+ years of experience earned $60,146 on average and their independently-accredited counterparts earned $76,252.
Owner Deductions (and how it impacts how much self-employed travel agents make)
I want to bring up one last thing that complicates things when it comes to self-employed travel agent salaries. Because why not? You've already read this far! 😊
When we're talking about income for self-employed agents, income/salary numbers can be artificially deflated.
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. All the IRS requires with these S Corp business structures is that the owner pays themselves a “reasonable” salary.
Learn about the different types of travel agency business structures here. So, keep those things in mind when you're looking at earning potential.
How Much Do Travel Agents Make? Travel Agent Employees Only.
This 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. Travel agent employee salaries have less variance when compared to self-employed travel agents. For the majority of travel advisor employees, income is not dependent on commissions alone.
In our 2023 survey, here’s how travel advisor employees reported getting paid:
A set salary offers income stability not afforded to self-employed advisors. Additionally, employees also often receive benefits and are not subject to the added complexity and expense of paying business taxes.
When looking at travel advisor employees only, HAR’s salary data lands much closer to what the BLS reports. In HAR’s 2023 survey, full-time travel agent employees earned $50,115.
Employee compensation models play a substantial role when it comes to how much a travel agent employee makes. Below the graph takes a look at the average income of the three most common compensation models.
How Much Do Travel Agents Make? Corporate Employees & Travel Managers
Corporate Travel Advisors
Corporate travel advisors typically earn more than those who sell leisure travel. Below offers a look at corporate advisor income compared to leisure advisor income (among FT advisors).
Do you have an interest in becoming a Corporate Travel Agent? You can sink your teeth into a few juicy tidbits of info here:
- HAR’s article, Breaking into corporate travel
- Our podcast interview (below) with corporate agent Karen Hurlbut:
Looking ahead on the corporate travel agent career trajectory, Travel Manager/Supervisory positions start with a much higher baseline. Business Travel News (BTN) report profiling Travel Managers/Supervisors' salary working for corporate entities as an in-house advisor (not working for a travel agency). The overall average salary for a travel manager position registered at $128,439.
Beyond Travel Agent Salaries, Why Advisors Love Their Jobs
We looked at travel agent salaries from a whole bunch of different perspectives. You made it through the spinning, twirling madness of data acrobats.
HAR’s past income and fee survey reports offer information on what you can expect from a travel agent salary. But ultimately, it depends on a ton of factors. Not only according to what type of advisor you are (which we cover here), but other factors such as what type of travel you sell, experience selling, hours worked, and all that other fun stuff.
While trying to determine a consistent travel agent salary is impossible, one thing is consistent among all the surveys, the majority of travel advisors are happy with an experience-rich career in travel.
HAR’s 2022 Travel Advisor Survey indicated that 74% of full-time advisors were (at minimum) happy and satisfied with their income levels. 22% were “somewhat satisfied” and 4% were unsatisfied with income levels. And this was during the pandemic!!!
Travel managers taking BTN’s survey were a bit more lukewarm in response to income satisfaction. 48% of travel managers reported their earnings were equitable, 12% felt “well compensated,” and 41% felt their salary was “low for responsibilities.”
And here’s the thing about being in the travel industry. Many advisors report that the primary benefit of working in travel is rooted in a personal passion for travel and the ability to share their love of travel with others.
Additionally, advisors often have access to great travel experiences they may not otherwise via familiarization trips or travel advisor discounts for those who reach sales thresholds or meet requirements.
In general, positions in travel offer a lower salary than other industries. But here’s the kicker, occupations in other industries don't include travel benefits and working in travel!
Interested in Becoming an Advisor? Here’s Where to Start
This leads us to the question of what type of travel advisor career you’d like to pursue. Do you want to become a self-employed travel advisor so you can have the creativity to book the type of travel you love and the flexibility to be your own boss?
Or do you want the structure of 9-5 with benefits and the income security of a travel advisor employee? Employees at a travel agency may have a salary cap if their compensation model is strictly hourly/salary (about 42% of employees), 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.
How do you decide what type of travel you want to sell? Do you want to do leisure or corporate? If you do leisure, which types of travel agent niches are the most lucrative? If you go the corporate route, how do you break into booking business travel?
💕 If you're thinking of joining the industry, here are a few resources you're gonna love: 💕
- Starting a travel agency from home article
- Free 15-page travel agency business plan template
- HAR's nifty resource on how to start a travel agency!
We’re here to help! If you have questions about what route to take or how to get started, give us a holler in the comments or reach out to us at Hello@HostAgencyReviews.com.