How Much Do Travel Agents Make? Travel Agent Salary 2022
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. Cost of living makes a big difference with average travel agent salaries varying widely according to region. Case in point, a Minneapolis dollar is only worth 47¢ in Manhattan, NY, but if you scoot down south to Des Moine, your Minneapolis dollar is worth $1.16. 1
The vast majority of leisure travel agents are now independent contractor entrepreneurs that align with a host agency.
Another important factor in travel agent earnings is whether they’re an employee or an entrepreneur. The vast majority of leisure travel agents are now independent contractor entrepreneurs that align with a host agency. This is a change from the old-school days when most travel agents were storefront agency employees.
One last huge factor in travel agent salaries? The type of travel a travel advisor sells. A corporate advisor will typically earn a higher salary than leisure/vacation travel agents.
Organizations reporting on travel agent salaries outside the travel industry aren’t aware of the nuances of our field.
The thing is that organizations reporting on travel agent salaries outside the travel industry aren’t aware of the nuances of our field. Most external sites don't include self-employed travel agents in their data, even though hosted travel agents (those who are aligned with a host agency) are the big players in leisure travel.They often just look at employee travel agent salaries.
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)
- Self-Employed Travel Agents(including hosted travel agents and independently accredited agents).
- Travel agent employees only
- Corporate travel agent employees only (including corporate travel agents and travel managers)
So take a seat. Find the fluffiest cotton candy you can, because the full-length travel agent salary show is about to begin (and it's gonna be great).
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 (2021) reported an average travel agent salary of $46,580 2. 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.3
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. Let’s take a peek at our 2022 Travel Advisor Survey which profiles primarily self-employed advisors. The graph below offers HAR's birds-eye view of salaries for ALL agents—self-employed, employees, full-time, or part-time.
Results from HAR’s survey clock in lower than the BLS number, with data indicating that full-time advisors earned a $37,473 annual average.
It’s important to note that HAR’s survey profiles income among self-employed advisors (any advisor who was not a travel agent employee.) In our 2022 survey, only 4% of advisors who responded to HAR’s survey were employees.
HAR’s 2020 longitudinal report indicated that full-time hosted advisors' income increased 38% in four years between 2016 and 2019
Our site helps travel agencies start and grow their travel agencies so our readers skew heavily towards entrepreneurs. There’s also another huge reason HAR’s survey data on travel agent salaries are less than what the BLS reports . . . COVID. As an employee, you receive a paycheck whether or not the company has income coming in. But if you own your own travel agency and a worldwide pandemic hits where no one can travel, guess what happens to your income? It dries up.
In fact, HAR’s 2020 longitudinal report indicated that full-time hosted advisors' income increased 38% in four years between 2016 and 2019 (before the pandemic outbreak). A much faster growth than employees whose income grew 26% over a decade according to BLS stats.
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 bring 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 2021, full-time hosted advisors with 3+ years of experience earned $24,982 on average and their independently-accredited counterparts earned $24,574.
Below, the graph compares current income to pre-pandemic income levels.
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! 😊
The next 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 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 business structures is that the owner pays themselves a “reasonable” salary.
Learn about the different types of 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.
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. Typically, employees will earn a mix of salary and commission-based income.
In our 2022 survey, here’s how travel advisor employees reported getting paid in our 2022 Travel Agent Survey:
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 2022 survey, full-time travel agent employees earned $38,967.
Employee compensation models play a substantial role when it comes to how much a travel agent employee makes. 70% of employees earned a wage or salary (either exclusively or in addition to commission income.) Below the graph takes a look at the average income of these two most common compensation models.4
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. For corporate travel agent earnings, we rely primarily on third-party data since it’s not our jam. We’re leisure folks over here at HAR!
The average annual income for corporate agents ranges from $54,419 to $79,557 depending on what website you reference. Below offers a snapshot of what third-party income-reporting platforms publish in terms of corporate income.
Do you have 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) published an Aug. 12, 2022 report profiling Travel Managers/Supervisors working for corporate entities as an in-house advisor (not working for a travel agency). The overall average salary for corporate travel manager/supervisor positions registered at $114,955.
Not too shabs, am I right?
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.
- Source: Bankrate Cost of Living Calculator (Sept. 9th, 2022). ↩
- https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes413041.htm ↩
- Source: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes413041.htm ↩
- We did not have a large enough sample to find a reliable average for employees who earned “other” income or “Commission Only” income. ↩