How Much Do Travel Agents Make? A Travel Agent Salary

August 13, 2018

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! 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. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLkAH7W81KA

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. There are also 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 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 they make up a majority of the industry, 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 home based 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:

  1. All travel agents (hosted, independent, and employees)
  2. Employees only 
  3. Corporate travel agent employees only
  4. Host travel agents only (primarily home based) 

Your patience will also be rewarded with a salary calculator tool. 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 2017 as $40,840 with a range of $21,350 and $62,320 dividing the lower to upper 10% of travel agents. These results are very close to HAR's most recent travel agent income findings of a $40,377 average among hosted travel agents with 3+ years experience.  

 

 

Our data similarities end there, however. 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. So why is this story so different from the 16% increase in average hosted travel agent income that Host Agency Reviews identified in our latest Travel Agent Income Report. Well, we have a few ideas why . . .

79% of travel agents included in the BLS data were employees while only 15% were self-employed1. That's right. Hosted and independent agents made up a nominal portion of agents studied. What does this mean? It means the BLS data on salary growth is not so accurate when it comes to hosted agents. 

But that's what we're here for! Stay tuned for more specific info on hosted agents! 

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). 

I won't lie. Employee travel agents aren't the focus on the site. In our most recent travel agent income survey, we didn't receive enough responses from travel agent employees to offer you reliable data about that sector. After all we are Host Agency Reviews. So for this segment, we rely on external data. 

The Travel Institute's 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. 

Among these employees, the 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. 

I won't lie. Finding reliable data on travel agent employee salaries is a challenging 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. When considering the impact of niche and experience, the same ASTA study found the average experienced corporate employees earned $13,000 more than their inexperienced counterparts. 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. 

Interested in checking out some travel industry jobs? You can find new travel industry jobs, updated weekly, on our Job's Board!

How much do travel agents make? Corporate employees & travel mangers 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: 

  1. Breaking in to corporate travel
  2. Travel Agent Chatter with corporate travel 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)3The 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 and independent agents, who are by and large home based? The Travel Institute study indicates a sea change when it comes to independent travel agents (ICs . . . yep, that includes hosted agents) participation in the travel agent industry.

In their earlier 2008 study, ICs made up 29% of the response rate 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 them.  

This is where we come in. 

We started an annual Travel Agent Income survey in 2017 that explores the nooks and crannies of a much more fragmented and complicated segment of the travel agent industry—the hosted travel agent. For those who want the light-speed version, hosted agents with 3+ years experience earned an average of $40,377 in 2017 and new agents (fewer than 3 years experience) earning $5,491 on average. 

Before I move on, I want to assure those who are reading this that income potential increases steeply from the 1st to 2nd year (over 400%), and continues to consistently rise. In fact, the higher earning hosted agents make as much or more than the average corporate employees and travel managers: 11% of hosted agents earned $100,000+ in 2017. 

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: 

  1. Travel Agent Income Report (2018)
  2. Which Travel Agent Specialties Generate the Most Income? 
  3. Who is the Hosted Travel Agent in 2018?
  4. Travel Agency Startup Costs and Earnings: What to Expect

Owner Deductions

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), salary numbers can be misleading. 

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. Not only that, but travel agents will vary WILDLY in terms of how much of their income they write off. 

(PSST! Go here for a travel agent estimated tax resource and quarterly tax email reminders!)

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 Steph did on travel agent salaries. It's a blast form the past (from 2013, to be exact), but it still has helpful info! 


from Steph Lee 

ASTA's travel agent salary tool

If you came to this article looking for an easy answer, I'm so very sorry. You ask: How much does a travel agent make? And *sigh*, we fire back with a zillion questions: Employee? Independent? Corporate? Leisure? Yikes, there are a lot of determining factors even BEFORE you go deeper into segmentation. 

Well, you've come this far and now your patience will be rewarded with ASTA's nifty travel agent salary tool. They've got loads of data on travel agent salaries that they pull from. They just ask you to input a few details:

  1. Position (Travel agent, new travel agent, managerial with sales duties, managerial w/o sales duties)
  2. 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.

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?—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, start by reading our starting a travel agency from home article or drop by our resources section for loads more info.

Footnotes

  1. Source: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/travel-agents.htm#tab-3
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4.  Source:
About the Author

Steph Lee

Hi, I’m Steph! I specialize in connecting travel agents to industry resources. I’ve worked with thousands of agents and helped them learn more about the travel industry or grow their business… 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!

If you’re looking for me, I leave a trace where ever I go! You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest as 'iamstephly'. 🙂