Go Away – here come the card mills again! | TravelResearchOnline

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Go Away – here come the card mills again!

Card mills are cyclical. They come and they go. High season always seems to bring them out of the woodwork. The bargain-hunters. The something-for-nothing crowd. And the card mills that love them.

My colleagues and I have been seeing one “agency” in particular, and have been delighting in taking apart their online ads. While it looks gorgeous from the outside – free travel, piles of money for practically zero effort – pretty much every legitimate travel agent sees these ads and rolls their eyes at the inaccuracy.

We work, you see. For every single penny we earn, we work. There are loads of things that these card mills don’t tell people. Like how much our commission drops every time somebody downgrades, every time the cruise line drops fares and we go in to re-fare the cabin, every time the passenger expects and demands extra gifts and perks just for booking with an agent instead of direct. Or like how much qualifying is required to make sure that the client is happy.

Just this week, I’ve had to talk a client through some tough decisions. His wife’s mobility is becoming more and more limited, and even though there are tours they want to take (the Canadian Rockies being one), there are certain things she just can’t do anymore. Now, having been their agent for a few years, I’m aware of the situation with her, and know what questions to ask him in order to make sure I’m giving them correct information. Would a card mill agent? Somebody who’s just in it for the “free” cruises? Unlikely.

Then, of course, there’s the damage that these people can do to the reputation of travel agents in general. I frequently have to battle the conception that we are lazy, greedy, and stupid. To listen to some people, all we want is all of your money, and we don’t really do any work for it, especially since the cruise lines pay us loads of cash for every booking. Of course this is patently untrue, but you couldn’t tell it from the things one reads on some cruise-focused message boards. The problem is, the agents who get sucked into this card mill industry are frequently the problem. They don’t really feel like they need to learn things about the cruise lines, or about their clients. They just want to make the bookings and make the money, and do all that “free” travel that they were promised. It gets tiring fighting it and I’ve stopped for the most part. I just hold my chin up, do my research, and give the best possible service to my clients. Why waste my energy dealing with trolls on the Internet? I’d much rather use it to reward my clients with the top-notch service that they’ve come to expect.

And, about that client: after quite a bit of talking, it looks as though the Canadian Rockies has morphed into a full Panama Canal transit. Not too many card mill agents can boast of knowing their clients’ bucket list, but I sure can, and so can many of my colleagues.

Crickett Lancaster is the owner of the home-based agency Go Away! in Brooklyn, NY. She’s an avid knitter, a karaoke fiend, and loves the freedom of being able to work in her pajamas if she so chooses. She occasionally posts travel-related rants and reviews at http://www.crickett.net, and can also be found on Facebook or email

  One thought on “Go Away – here come the card mills again!

  1. Crickett:

    We feel your pain. A few years ago TRO developed this site to assist bona fide travel consultants to explain card mills to their clients: http://www.cardmills.com ~ Richard

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