What Do Travel Agents Do? (And How Do They Do It?)
What do travel agents do? How do they book trips differently from travelers? What is the skinny on the deals and discounts that travel agents get?
Here's the (very) short answer: When it comes to booking trips, the actual logistics—going into a supplier portal and plugging in the traveler info—isn’t radically different from the way a traveler books her own trip online. If you’ve done it as a traveler, you can do it fairly easily as a travel advisor as well. That said, there is more (waaaay more) to consider when you're booking as a travel agent.
So what do travel agents do, exactly? We'll chat through differences of booking as an agent and a traveler, go over the extra details/info a travel agent needs to book a trip, and offer a few video tutorials (which are basically like taking a peek at the wizards behind the curtain). So whether you're an a travel advisor who wants a few tips, or a traveler who is curious to see how it's done, you're in the right place.
Want to fast forward to specific information? We'll put you on the fast track!
⭐️ HAR Article Highlights: ⭐️
- Booking as a Travel Agent vs. Booking as a Traveler
- Info Travel Agents Need to Book a Trip
- [VIDEO] What Do Travel Agents Do? Take a Look for Yourself!
- Travel Agent Tricks to Booking Trips
- Post Booking Details
What do Travel Agents Do? Booking as a Travel Agent vs. Booking as a Traveler
Once someone becomes a travel agent, they will have access to agent portals from suppliers that are not available to the general public. What distinguishes a travel agent from Jane Doe booking a flight and tour of London? An accreditation number. (Read up on accreditation numbers and how to get one here).
One way to look at what a travel agent does, is to consider how they book travel differently than a traveler. Here’s a few examples of how booking a trip as a travel agent is different than booking as a traveler:
1. Travel agents hold space on TrIp packages before paying for it:
It might not surprise you to hear that I can’t go on Expedia and hold a berth on [enter just about any cruise line here] without giving up my credit card digits. But with certain suppliers, travel agents can hold space on some trips with just a traveler's name.
2. Travel Agents hold airline tickets:
When you book air, a travel agent can hold a fare usually at least until the end of the day. This is a huge perk . . . especially if clients want to hold a great fare but need a little wiggle room to coordinate with other travelers or take time to confirm details. Can you do this as a standard consumer on airline websites or online travel agencies (OTAs)? No.
3. travel agents Make a deposit to hold a trip & they can pay in installments:
This is a big deal. Not only can travel agents hold space and airfare without booking, but they can also can put a deposit on the trip without paying for the entire stinking thing at once. That way, $3,000 - $10,000+ for a trip can be stashed away in a high-yield bank account rather than paid to a supplier for a trip they’re not taking for 9+ months. Doesn't $416.67/mo sound less scary than $5,000? It sure does to me. Does this take a lot of tracking and organization? Yes. Travel agents track deposit and deadlines and final payments deadlines to make sure any booking crisis is averted. But guess what, it's a part of the job (and value they offer to travelers).
4. travel agents use an accreditation number to book:
Travel agents have access to special booking portals that aren't available to the general public, and an accreditation number is the key that opens up the door to this magical portal. This is a big one.
5. They book more complicated trips on a supplier portal:
Okay, so you want to go on Expedia to book hotel rooms for 8 adults, 3 toddlers, two teens, and two kids and you want one room with two bedrooms (one with two queens, one with a king), and a king studio suite with a privacy wall? Good luck! TA Portals offer more flexibility to see what’s available and can accommodate more complex groups. When groups get bigger, booking becomes even more complicated. But you know what helps with this . . .
6. Travel agents develop strong relationships with travel companies
On top of having access to travel-agent-only booking portals, travel agents also develop strong ties with different travel companies. These relationships are a huge benefit when it comes to booking large groups or more complex trips (or any trip, really). It also helps travel agents support their clients if something goes awry during their trip. Travel companies are extra motivated to be responsive to travel agents since they typically book a higher volume than Jane Doe. Not only that, but agents also may get access to certain perks and upgrades on their portals. Read on . . .
7. Travel agents have access to Commissions, perks, and upgrades:
Travel agents receive commissions from suppliers when they book a trip. Commission level will depend on many factors . . . I'm not going to jump down this rabbit hole right now, but you can read up about it here if it piques your curiosity. These commissions will be listed in the portals for the different trips they book, and that can play a factor into the details of their trip planning.
Along with commissions, agents might also have access to perks and upgrades that they can extend to their clients. How do you know what these are? It depends on the supplier. But travel agents are the ones who will wade through all at the info to help book the best trip.
8. Travel agents Can price match:
It's a myth that a trip is automatically going to be more expensive if you book through an agent. In travel agent portals, agents have the ability to find a lower cost for the same (exact) trip and submit a price match is they find one. Is a travel agent going to spend 10 hours trying to save $20 on a $8,000 trip? I sure hope not. But at the end of the day, they ARE going make sure that travelers get the best value for clients considering overall costs, upgrades etc.
This really just touches the surface. The most exciting part is yet to come, where you can see travel agents in action! Read on to check out the videos where you’ll be able to see it all in action!
What Do Travel Agents Do? Info Agents Need to Book a Trip:
Not only do agents have access to different booking platforms, but agents also ensure they have all the client information they need to book their trip.
An accreditation number is the most important piece of information an agent needs to book trips, hands down. Short of getting their accreditation number tattooed to their wrist, I'm willing to bet most seasoned travel agents have it committed to memory (or at least taped next to their laptop trackpad). Along with an accreditation, agents need to have this info on hand too:
- Accreditation number (hey, it’s worth repeating because agents won’t get anywhere without it)
- Client's credit card expiration date and security code (unless you an agent is holding the booking, in which case they may not need it quite yet!)
- Client's passport number
- Client name exactly as it appears on the cc card (especially if it doesn’t match what agents have on file)
- Client’s billing address and phone number
- Any of the client’s reward program numbers, as it applies to different vendors
- Host’s phone number: Many suppliers don't require this, but some do.
A travel agent will need to organize their agency info and client info before they log in. When it comes to their client info, that will likely be kept organized their customer relationship management (CRM) database. Another fun thing they get to keep track of that I'm happy not to worry about, personally :)
What Do Travel Agents Do? Take a Sneak Peek at Travel Agent Booking Portals!
What do travel agents do, exactly? Well you're about to see them in action! Meet Tammy O'Hara and Erin Cook, our resident travel advisors who not only know their way around a complicated booking, but they both also have a background in training!
Tammy O'Hara is owner and boss-lady (my words, not hers) of Million Miles Travel. (Psst, another fun fact about Tammy, she used to be a lawyer!) Tammy is going to walk you through a few different types of bookings: cruise, air consolidator and an all inclusive.
Erin Cook is the advisor behind Tips for Travel Agents. But not only does she sell travel and coach travel agents, she also raises children . . . all of this at the same time. Erin share a video tutorial of a land-only Funjet booking.
Here's a few custom demo videos on what booking looks like on the backend of different platforms. They both offer phenomenal tips and tricks along the way that make you feel like you’re fast-forwarding your progress. (Um, their videos may or may not be how I know as much I do about booking.) So allow me to defer to their brilliance:
Cruise Booking, Cruising power
Air consolidator, CenTrav
All inclusive, VacationExpress.com
Land Tour Only, VAX
Thanks to both of these remarkable women—the wizards behind the curtain—for taking time out of their very full schedule to share their wisdom!
Tips and tricks for Booking as a Travel Agent:
Are you inspired by what travel agents do? Curious to dig a little deeper? Here’s a few random tips for travel agents to book like a pro the first time:
- Have the info you need in front of you: Channel your inner organizer (yes, the one that has a carry-on and/or toiletry bag ready to go at any moment for your weekend trips). Do you have 30 tabs open, each with different info from different sources. 🙅🏻♀️🙅🏻♀️🙅🏻♀️DON’T DO IT! Have all the info you need in front of you in one place before you start booking. It will help you focus on the booking and not trying to find which freaking program you have their travel dates saved . . . and this focus will help prevent costly errors.
- It’s a balance between finding the right cost and the right commission: When an agent booking a trip, you should be able to clearly see what commission (or markup) you’ll get from the booking. Of course you want to make sure your trip work for your client, but make sure it works for YOU too.
- Look at your booking with fresh eyes before you put down the deposit: I know I’ve said this a million times, but you want to make sure all the details are right. You WILL make a mistake. The wrong name, the wrong date and heck—as a parent with a newborn I know I would do this—even the wrong destination. It’s easy to make a mistake.
- TAKE TIME to look at your booking with fresh eyes: I know I’ve said this a million times, but you want to make sure all the details are right. You WILL make a mistake. The wrong name, the wrong date and heck . . . even the wrong destination (as a parent with a newborn I know I would do this). It’s easy to make a mistake. Most supplier portals will give you some breathing time between entering all the info and putting down the deposit. For example, a consolidator may hold the fare until 11pm same night. A supplier might give you 48 hours until you book it. Because if you were booking a trip for Mary Bailey and it made you think of your grandma Mary Balsley and you accidentally entered the wrong last name without knowing, it’s sooooo much easier to fix before you put down the deposit.
Most supplier portals will give you some breathing time between entering all the info and putting down the deposit.
- Make sure you send the right copy to the right person: Once you book a trip, many portals will have an agent copy and a client copy. Unless you have a very open relationship with your client, they really don’t need to know what commission you’re getting from their trip.
- Enter the info into your CRM without passing GO: If the specific supplier portal you’re using doesn’t synch with your CRM, make sure you enter the trip details into your CRM right away. Do it while you’re thinking about it. Don’t be like me on a bad day and wait until the next day, then have to remember what trip it was you just booked, and who was taking it, then take a half hour to do a 2 minute job. Do it while it’s fresh in your mind.
- Price match (if you can): Most suppliers will price match. If you can find the exact same trip for a lower price on another portal, you can submit a price match. So if supplier A. sent promotion for Azamara, but you prefer to book on supplier portal B because you get a better commission there, then submit a price match.
- Take the supplier trainings to make you more efficient: What’s better? PC or Mac? Well, it depends if you ask someone who’s been using a PC or a Mac their whole life. Every supplier portal will be a little different, and all travel agents will have their personal favorites. Find your favorites and learn them inside and out.
What Do Travel Agents Do? Post-Booking Details:
1. Confirm Trip Details with your Client
At this stage, you have probably confirmed details with your clients so many times that all the info may be liquefying your brain. But guess what? You need to do it again! Why? Because if you made a mistake in the booking, you want to know ASAP.
Send the booking details to your client to have them verify everything is correct, including the destination, departure/arrival dates and cities, names (as they appear on the passport), flight/hotel/room/rental dates.
You know what's really nifty? We happen to have a Trip Details Confirmation form you can download and send to your client!
Viola! You're good to go!
2. Enter booking into a Your accounting software (DO NOT PaSS GO)
*High Five!* You made a sale. It's time to celebrate! BUT. Before you run out and buy party favors and bonbons, you must enter you booking information into whatever backend software your use to track your commissions. Is it an Excel sheet. Fabulous. Fire that puppy up. Do you use ClientBase or another program. Great!
Why am I so adamant about this? Because if you don't, your booking will be the tree that fell in the woods with no one around to hear it. It will be like it never happened . . . and worst of all, you won't get paid. Host agency, KHM, says it great with their video:
If you belong to a host agency or travel agency, you can ask them what their tracking methods are and if they have a tool available to you (I'm betting on yes). If you're flying solo, you can pick your own or use Excel.
What info you need to track your commission will depend on what program you use. But you can count on needing most of the info below:
- Passenger Names
- Booking Confirmation Number
- Booking Date
- Travel Dates
- Package Price
- Commission Projected
- Traveler Count
Since commission isn't remitted until after travel, there's a good chance your commission won't land in your bank account for months. Entering your booking right away doesn't only ensure you get paid, but also helps you track payment so you can follow up with suppliers if your commission is past due. When you receive a commission, you can close it out.
3 most Common Errors when entering booking information
Every month, host agencies and travel agencies receive a long list in small font of mystery commissions that aren't attached to any specific booking. The agencies will do their due diligence in tracking down the appropriate agent, but without any information (except for the dollar amount), it's difficult to determine who it belongs to.
Sandy Saburn, VP of Gifted Network said, "Most suppliers simply send a long list of booking numbers and amount of commission they are paying on each — no traveler name, no agent name, and no travel date. So without that booking number in ClientBase it is impossible for our commissions team to find who they need to pay that commission to."
Some hosts will impose penalties to help incentive agents to enter their bookings (and with accuracy). But you're not going to have to worry about this because A.) You will enter your bookings RIGHT AWAY and B.) You're about the learn the 3 most common travel agent error in entering bookings so you can avoid making them:
- Not entering the booking at all: This is such a common issue that some hosts will apply a penalty fee if a booking isn't entered (and rightfully so, since it's a takes significant amount of administrative power to track down the appropriate agent)
- Not entering their bookings into the system in a timely fashion: If an agent doesn't fill out their sales report before the accredited agency receives the commission, the commission will be delayed (possibly significantly). Ask your host or travel agency if they have timelines for entering your commission. (But you won't need to worry about this since you'll enter your booking RIGHT AWAY).
- Mixing up alphas and numerics (e.g. i,l,1 or O vs. 0): Hannah, commission manager from KHM says, "We highly suggested copy and pasting the booking number from the confirmation page. Another common error is putting in the wrong booking #. We recommend that if agents see multiple confirmation numbers, to add them all and break them up by using the dash simple."
Okay, now you're really set. You can sleep easy knowing that your commissions will land in your bank account in a timely manner!
I almost forgot to say thank you! Believe it or not, this information didn't materialize from my own brain! Thank you to KHM, Outside Agent Link, Dugan's Travel, Gifted Travel Network, Travel Gallery Inc. for weighing in on common travel agent booking errors!
You’re Ready to Book Like A Travel Agent
Excited to book like a travel agent, but still need to get your agency set up? Sign up for our 7 Day Setup Travel Agency Challenge and you’ll be on the supplier portal backends in no time.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re (hopefully) feeling more confident about using travel agent portals. But if there’s another tutorial you’d like us to throw into the mix or if you want to share your expertise, comment below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions!