My earlier article Booking Travel Through Consolidators generated quite a buzz amongst agents and consolidators alike, and I had the opportunity to converse with many of you one-on-one. In the weeks that ensued, it became apparent to me that the article had opened up a dialogue with many questions that should be addressed.
My intent in this follow-up article is to present some of the questions that were most often asked of me, in the hopes that it inspires interest, learning, discussion, collaboration, and profitability in the travel agent and consolidator communities. As with many things in the travel industry, I must stress at the outset that there are no hard-and-fast answers to any question; it all depends on each individual situation.
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Question: How do you get clients to book through you instead of going with lower fares that they find on the Internet?
Answer: Consolidator airfares can be a great profit center for agents, but it does not necessarily work for any and all client requests. There will always be competition from Internet mega-agencies, but what they can’t offer clients is your live, personalized service and expertise as an agent. Showcase your knowledge to your clients, so that they see the value in booking with you. For instance, the client tells you they found a lower fare online. You might say “I see that it could be a good deal, but does the fare include taxes?” or “Many times the fares you see online are offered at a lower cost but are very restrictive in terms of cancellation and change policies. Maybe I can help find something that will work better for your travel plans.”
Sometimes the client’s travel needs are such that they either can’t or don’t know how to book it themselves, or in some cases, they’d rather not deal with it on their own. Here is where we as travel agents are often presented with golden opportunities. I have found that clients commonly come to our agency when they need help with more complex itineraries or because they are unfamiliar with the destinations to which they are traveling. Particularly for international travel, showing the client that you are familiar with travel arrangements to their destination or region of interest is key in building their trust in you.
Question: How do you make that much and still remain competitive?
Answer: At my agency, our average net mark-ups for coach class are $100 – $150 per ticket, and for business class, $200 – $250 per ticket. This is all made possible by very good net fares as offered by our consolidators. I have found that the more flexible the client is in terms of the airline(s), flight routing, dates, and flight times, the better my chances are that the consolidators will be able to offer me lower fares. However, if the client has a very definite set of preferences, I might have less maneuverability in terms of what I can offer them. Most often, it helps to explain to clients the different factors that might get them a lower fare (i.e. departing on Thursday night instead of Friday morning, departing from a different airport, etc.). At times, it can boil down to a judgment call: Would I rather make less in order to get the client’s business, or is the situation such that lowering the mark-up or cutting the service fee is unjustifiable?
Question: All I’ve ever made off of air ticketing is a service fee. What can I do differently?
Answer: Consolidator net airfares are airline tickets offered to you at wholesale prices. Assuming the consolidator offers you a good fare, follow the same practices that any retailer of tangible goods would, and only quote your clients the gross fare. In other words, unless you are forced to (in the case of published fare tickets), do not line-itemize your fee and/or your mark-up. If you simply embed these costs in the total fare per ticket, your client sees only the good deal you have to offer, not the list of charges that add to the final tally. One exception that comes to mind is when you have a particularly good base fare that could work to your advantage. If that’s the case, embed your mark-up in the base fare and quote it as “Base Fare + Taxes = Total per Ticket.”
Question: I know we can make money selling air, but can air ticketing really sustain an agency?
Answer: In my opinion, the answer is a resounding “yes,” if you play your cards right. My own agency is a testament to this, as air ticketing revenue is oftentimes the “bread and butter” of our operation.
Find consolidators whose policies and procedures are good match for your ticketing needs, and once you find particular agents that you work well with, reach out to those individuals, and stick with them. Invest in that relationship by taking the time to educate them about your ticketing needs (a niche market served by your agency, particular needs of your clientele, etc.), and learn as much as you can about air ticketing and the different markets in air travel. Consolidator agents possess a wealth of knowledge in this regard, and they know and appreciate working with agents who are knowledgeable about air ticketing. This knowledge will also increase your credibility and value to your clients as you advise them about different flight routing options for given itineraries and endeavor to offer them the lowest possible fares.
Last but certainly not least, maintain your competitive edge. Stay informed about developments in the airline industry that could affect your air ticketing business. Familiarize yourself with the air ticketing markets and how seasonality affects each. Get an idea of the pricing that’s out there in the mass market and on the Internet so that you are not caught unawares when clients call, and stand behind your air quotes with confidence. Do not let them see you sweat. You may not be rewarded with each and every client’s ticketing, but over time, you can build significant business through consolidator air ticketing.
Adrienne Mitra is the owner of Celebrations International Travel, Inc., an independent agency focused on serving a number of niche markets, including culinary travel, cruises, tours, all-inclusive resorts, and group travel.