Alexandria, VA, March 19, 2018 – The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) is responding vigorously to the recent error-ridden CheatSheet.com article about travel agents entitled "This Is the No. 1 Secret to Cheap Travel That Your Travel Agent Won’t Tell You" by Barri Segal. The uproar presents an opportunity to educate journalists and consumers about travel agents' value and responding to the inaccuracies in the CheatSheet.com article will help drive home the message that agents provide an invaluable service to the consumer: helping us all see the world.
Here is ASTA’s response to CheatSheet.com’s assertions:
1. They can’t book (or price) all airline carriers.
This portion of the article is so fraught with errors; it is hard to know where to start. Any travel agent that still sells air travel (not all do, just like not all retailers sell every brand of anything) can, using technologies available to all of them, sell any airline’s services, including Southwest. This can be done as a stand-alone ticket for air travel or as a package with multiple components. Good luck trying to figure out comparative package values without the aid of an expert.
2. They’re best to use for milestone trips
If you’re booking a flight from Los Angeles to New York, your travel agent CAN do it for you and no, you won’t pay more just because you’re using a travel agent. Yes, travel agents can help you plan milestone trips and make the most of your overall travel experience. Their job is to ensure that you truly experience the destination – not just tick landmarks off a list of things to see. There is no question that agents deliver huge value for consumers planning key trips – weddings, vacations, etc. This is not even arguable, as recognized by the author.
3. They make the most money if someone dies
This assertion is as false as it is insulting. Exactly what is the source of knowledge of agents’ business practices on which these claims are based? According to the first point in the article, travel agents can’t book (or price) all airline carriers. Then the article contradicts itself in suggesting that somehow travel agents make money on only certain flights. Suggesting that a travel agent would charge a grieving customer more for an emergency trip is a blanket false statement. Many travel agents arrange travel for their clients with NO FEE at all! Since base commissions were abolished more than a decade ago, agents generally charge fees for booking air tickets and have a legal, ethical and practical responsibility to protect their clients’ interests even above their own. An agent’s focus on “duty of care” – helping safeguard you from harm and keeping you and those important to you informed when things go wrong – is priceless. What do you do if find yourself in the midst of a horrific storm (or worse)? Who is there to rebook your flights, cancel or rebook your hotel reservations, provide you with new options smartly and expeditiously? Your travel advisor. Try doing that on your own. Few, if any, agent compensation depends on the time of departure or amount of the ticket price. If you want to comment on the behavior of travel agents, don’t just ask the opinion of their online competitors.
4. They make major commissions
In our industry, competition is ferocious and no agent can survive long by giving bad advice to earn a few extra bucks on a sale. Many states hold agents to a “fiduciary” standard – that is, they must put the clients’ interests ahead of their own and can be sued if they don’t. As a piece of factual information, the profit margins of many items bought via retail differ, so that retailers of all kinds might, when viewed superficially, have incentives to huckster the higher margin items, but doing that is a disservice to the customer who has many choices and in the end will cost the retailer his business. Travel agents are no different. Customer interest must, and does, come first.
5. Charging you extra is a game for them
Making up quotes “from Travel Weekly” is the only way you could paint this picture. As for how agents make their money, we are again left with sweeping statements based on no tangible evidence. Agents make their money in different ways. They are a diverse group, many with specialties and niche expertise that delivers very high value to their clients who reward the agents accordingly. Guess what – finding the “best price” is not the same as finding the “best value.” What a good travel agent will do is find the price and service combination that best meets the traveler’s needs and wants. If it’s only about price, everyone would just eat at McDonalds.
6. Your ticket is not refundable
Again, this section is so fraught with errors and quotes from “agents” that never provided these anecdotes to Travel Weekly (we are assured). Travel agents of all kinds provide refunds in keeping with travel vendor policies and government regulations. To suggest that travel agents are making money off the backs of their customers who cancel trips is simply false.
7. They’ll rip you off with travel insurance
Life insurance may not be “necessary” either - unless you die. Agents recommend insurance to help protect the considerable investment that consumers make in committing to travel plans, especially where a complex vacation experience is at stake. Things do go wrong and neither the consumer, the agent nor the travel vendor can prevent them. So insurance often makes sense and in many cases it helps avoid huge losses for the traveler. Railing at agents about recommending travel insurance is just plain silly. Fabricating quotes regarding travel insurance commission rates is irresponsible.
8. They bait you with cheap vacations
A travel agent who lies about the cost of a vacation isn’t doing their business any favor. Does the writer of this piece really believe that agents make this stuff up so they can be caught in the act within weeks or months of giving bad advice? ASTA estimates that over 40% of travel agents today are home-based. This doesn’t give travel agents much room to do a bait and switch.
9. They sometimes ask you to pay before you really have to
Another false and unsubstantiated claim. We’re happy to provide real evidence on how agents are compensated. The compensation is not tied to the price of the ticket, or a sales quota. That went out for the most part more than ten years ago.
10. New agents will give you a better deal
“They don’t have the confidence to rip you off” – this is false on so many levels. The best value you’re going to get from a travel agent has little to do with their age or how long they’ve been in business. The deals and the value that you get from using a trusted travel advisor has everything to do with their destination expertise, consortia affiliations, duty of care and more. If a consumer is concerned, they can always ask for references.
11. Travel tours might be traps
This is false. Often times those tours and day drips are significantly cheaper if you go through a travel agent, because they’re buying in bulk and have relationships with destination management companies and tour operators that would take the average consumer a lifetime to build.
12. You can negotiate
As with many industries, comparison shopping helps the consumer make a choice that fits their overall need. Not every aspect of a memorable travel experience is worth the cost, and as the saying goes “you get what you pay for.” If you want to bargain your next travel experience, that’s your prerogative. But a travel agent is there to help you set those overall travel budgets and get the best value from your experience.
13. You don’t necessarily have to pay a solo supplement
Travel advisors specialize in all sorts of travel, including many who specialize in custom itineraries for solo travelers. That doesn’t mean that every experience is tied to a solo supplement rate. The industry is changing and adapting to the traveler of today – and that means that travel agents are catering to solo travelers more than ever. No, you don’t necessarily have to pay a solo supplement – and your travel advisor can help you.
14. Group bookings can cost more
Again, this is false. Generally speaking, group bookings do not cost you more going through a travel agent. If anything, it costs you less. A good travel advisor will work with the entire group to ensure that everyone is staying on budget and that group activities are suitable for everyone.
15. They might take advantage of you if you’re a loyal customer
As for how agents make their money, we are again left with sweeping statements based on no tangible facts. Agents make their money in different ways. They are a diverse group, many with specialties and niche expertise that deliver very high value to their clients who reward the agents accordingly.
16. Top tips when dealing with a travel agent
Our suggestions, since you didn’t’ ask:
Conclusion: Before publishing “articles” like this, do some solid research about the facts. Cheat Sheet has embarrassed itself here, but it didn’t have to. First, the author should be held accountable for plagiarizing a 2013 Women’s Day article. Second, the author should be held accountable for quoting “Travel Weekly” as a source, when the quotes were actually lifted from an eight-year-old articled that appeared in The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) which the author never credits. In fact, a majority of the quotes in this article are plagiarized and falsely attributed to Travel Weekly.
We would have been glad to speak to Cheat Sheet about the real facts surrounding our industry. In the end, consumers decide. Last year U.S. travel agents of all kinds sold $86 billion in air sales alone, in an intensively competitive marketplace where clients can (and do) take their business elsewhere if they feel ill-treated. They must be doing something right.
Agents who would like to respond directly to The CheatSheet.com can do so here.
ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) members represent 80 percent of all travel sold in the United States through the travel agency distribution channel. Together with hundreds of internationally based members, it is the leading global advocate for travel agents, the travel industry and the traveling public. ASTA’s history of travel industry advocacy traces back to its founding in 1931 when it launched with the mission to facilitate the business of selling travel through effective representation, shared knowledge and the enhancement of professionalism. For more information, visit ASTA.org.
ASTA’s sister association, The National Association of Career Travel Agents, represents a professional community of independent travel agents ready to assist the traveling public.