This Is the No. 1 Secret to Cheap Travel That Your Travel Agent Won’t Tell You

Does anyone still use a travel agent to plan a trip these days? Apparently, yes. Although the demise of the travel agent is likely down the road — due to the way the internet has revolutionized the way Americans search for and book travel — they still exist, and most have changed with the times.

If the idea of planning a holiday trip overwhelms you, perhaps you should consider using a travel agent. Before you do, however, read about the secrets travel agents don’t want you to know, and make sure you learn the No. 1 — on Page 5 — thing they keep hidden from customers.

1. They can’t book or price all airline carriers

Southwest Airlines

Booking Southwest has restrictions. | Rypson/iStock/Getty Images

Believe it or not, travel agents can’t book — or get prices from — all airline carriers, according to Travel Weekly. Agents cannot book Southwest when they’re putting together wholesale packages that include air, hotel, and transfers. Because they can’t use Southwest for these types of packages, you might end up spending more than you have to. Southwest often offers the lowest prices across the board for flights.

Next: Save the agent for something special.

2. They’re best to use for milestone trips

two hearts drawn on perfectly white sand of paradise beach

Using a travel agent to plan a honeymoon trip could be worthwhile. | anyaberkut/iStock/Getty Images

If you’re booking a flight from Los Angeles to New York, a travel agent won’t tell you to do it yourself. But you’d likely save money if you did. Just go online and find the best price

If you’re booking a special vacation, however, a travel agent can make or break your trip, according to Travel Weekly. A travel agent might know the perfect destination for your honeymoon, for example, which would take the work out of finding it yourself. Or, if you’re doing multiple flights, it’s probably just easier to use an agent to take the possible confusion out of booking.

Next: Don’t ever do this.

3. They make the most money if someone dies

Sad and worried entrepreneur working on line with a laptop

When you have to plan a trip last minute, travel agents make the most money. | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

This is perfectly awful, but unfortunately, travel agents make the most money when they have to make last-minute reservations, such as flights for unexpected funerals. “Times of need such as death, illness or other urgent trips are where agents see the big bucks. Airlines don’t charge any more for late bookings, but the agent sure will,” a travel agent told Travel Weekly. Don’t use a travel agent if you have an emergency trip come up —book your trip yourself.

And another said, “I remember a time when I marked an airfare up $600 over what you could get it for on the internet or with the airline direct. “A family member had passed away in the US and they wanted to leave the following day. I felt a bit guilty, but it paid for a big weekend of partying.”

Next: Cha-ching

4. They make major commissions

american dollar bills

They’ll steer you toward higher prices to make more commission. | halduns/iStock/Getty Images

According to Travel Weekly, a travel agent’s commission range is typically 10% to 18%. Because they work on commissions, naturally they’ll try to steer travelers toward products that pay larger ones. That means agents will try to get you to book from in-house, “preferred” suppliers, because they pay the most in commissions.

Next: And now, the No. 1 secret

5. Charging you extra is a game for them

Family with travel agent

They try to drive up prices. | comstock/iStock/Getty Images

Travel agents often make a game out of charging you extra, according to Travel Weekly. “All travel agents get paid commission from hotels and airlines, but this can be as low as 1% so we have to make our money somewhere, said a travel agent to Travel Weekly.

“Recently we played a game in the office of how much we mark up tickets to Sydney for. The tickets were about $89 one way but I sold them for $265 — some guy had to get to Sydney for a work meeting. I bet he was a bit shocked when he got on the plane and it wasn’t chock-a-block like I told him. But that’s a mark-up of $176, so I won that round,” said the agent.

Next: Don’t believe everything you hear.

6. Your ticket is not nonrefundable

Your travel agent doesn’t want you to know you can get a refund. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Did you know that essentially no airfares are nonrefundable? Probably not. And your travel agent won’t tell you that, either.

“Whilst most airlines will charge a small fee for making changes, there is not one airfare out at the moment that is non-refundable,” a travel agent told Travel Weekly. “We will normally tell you the ticket is nonrefundable when we sense there is the slightest chance you may cancel, especially if it’s a big booking — we need to protect our commission and it’s like a form of punishment for canceling your trip.”

“I made close to $3000 commission recently on a romantic trip for two to Tahiti, (after) they canceled due to family problems. We charged them $3,500 in cancellation fees — what they didn’t know was the actual cancellation fees were just $365 for the two airfares and the hotels were cancelled free of charge.”

Next: Get a discount

7. They’ll rip you off with travel insurance

hand singing a paper

Don’t sign an insurance document until you’ve negotiated the price. | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Insurance is where travel agents really make their money. Mark: “Travel insurance is our bread and butter. Ever wondered why it is so expensive? It’s because we get paid 40 per cent commission on policies we sell,” said an agent to Travel Weekly. “Always ask for a discount on the insurance; anything less than a 20 per cent discount and you’re getting ripped off,” he cautioned.

Next: Bait and switch

8. They bait you with cheap vacations

booking flight travel traveler search ticket reservation

They’ll start low and try to upsell you. | scyther5/iStock/Getty Images

Travel agents reel you in with great deals, then switch them up, according to Travel Weekly. For example, one might advertise a holiday to Fiji for $669, but the resort you’d be staying at would be subpar. And you can bet the travel agent will tell you that the resort isn’t great — and try to upsell you.

“We then we get a nibble which is you walking into the store and sitting down and that’s when we tell you it’s not available and then we sell you a much more expensive package to a resort that pays top commission. That’s when you know you have landed a good catch,” said an agent to Travel Weekly.

Next: Pay upfront?

9. They sometimes ask you to pay before you really have to

Man paying another with a credit card

The agent might be trying to meet a quota. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

According to Travel Weekly, some travel agents ask customers to pay as soon as possible, often by telling something along the lines of the airline is withdrawing the airfare, so you need to ante up now. This does occasionally happen, but chances are that your travel agent hasn’t met his or her sales quota for the month and needs your money to make the goal. “All my big bookings are generally due the month I’m on holiday, just so that my commission pay doesn’t drop whilst I’m away. Don’t fall for it,” said a travel agent to Travel Weekly.

Next: Look for a newbie.

10. New agents will give you a better deal

Shocked and surprised boy on the internet with laptop computer

A newer agent doesn’t know the tricks yet to rip you off. | iStock.com/BrianAJackson

The travel industry suffers from big staff turnover rates, according to Travel Weekly. Therefore, there’s typically more than one newbie at an agency. Those newbies might just give you a better deal, said a travel agent to Travel Weekly.

“They don’t have the confidence to rip you off, so you’re generally going to get the best available price with them, whereas the older more experienced agents know all the tricks and will squeeze every dollar out of you,” he said. If you use a travel agent, look for one who’s new on the scene.

Next: Avoid these.

11. Travel tours might be traps

couple snorkeling in the tropical sea

Tours increase the price tag. | mihtiander/iStock/Getty Images

Of course your travel agent won’t tell you that travel tours are traps, according to Travel Weekly. Travel agents use tours and day trips to increase the price tags on bookings and make more commission. “ … Without a doubt it is going to be cheaper to buy your tours and day trips at your destination, that way you avoid all commissions and pay the operator direct,” said a travel agent to Travel Weekly.

“One of my friends who works at a huge travel agency just told me about a incentive they have running called ‘pimp that file’ where they are encouraged to put every little tour, transfer, show and everything you don’t need just so that they can increase the cost of the package and in turn increase their take home pay,” he said.

Next: Something you probably didn’t know

12. You can negotiate

Delta Cuts Travel Agent Commissions

Always try haggling. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

According to the website loveEXPLORING, you can haggle with travel agents, but they won’t let you in on that secret. Travel agents hate when customers go with someone else because they got a lower price, and often, they’ll negotiate.

Keep in mind that when you use a travel agent, the first price you get is rarely the lowest rate available — instead, it’s an automatically generated rate that’s in line with the company’s parameters. If you find a lower price for the same trip, go back to your travel agent and see what he or she can do to shave the price.

Next: Stop paying more.

13. You don’t necessarily have to pay a solo supplement

Tourist at the Parthenon

A solo traveler doesn’t have to pay more. | anyaberkut/iStock/Getty Images

If you’re traveling alone — and in particular, choosing an organized tour — you could pay more than a couple would. Nowadays, however, tour operators are offering solo travelers set dates on which they can travel without paying a solo supplement, according to loveEXPLORING.

These trips, however, are often not advertised, because tourist agents won’t make as much money off them. Make sure you ask your agent if he or she has dates for solo travel that are exempt from a supplement; you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised.

Next: Double-check this one.

14. Group bookings can cost more

Tourists watching with binoculars to North Korean village Propaganda village or Peace village at Korean Demilitarized Zone

Groups might cost more than booking individually. | Loeskieboom/iStock/Getty Images

Believe it or not, if you use a travel agent and you’re traveling with a group, it might actually cost you more, according to loveEXPLORING. After the travel agent tells you the price for your group booking, check how much each room would cost if you booked it individually. You might be surprised, and not pleasantly.

If you’re looking online for group travel deals with meals included, the algorithms on large booking sites don’t always accurately calculate the cost for an entire group — and you might end up paying for an additional person’s meals for the duration of the trip. Make sure you know exactly what you’re signing up for.

Next: Loyalty doesn’t pay.

15. They might take advantage of you if you’re a loyal customer 

man working on laptop with tickets fligths web

If they know you’ll book with them no matter what, they might bump up the price. | iStock.com/milindri

This one really hurts: A travel agent might take advantage of you if use him or her regularly, according to news.com.au. If you trust a travel agent and always book with him or her, your price might actually be higher.

“We know when you come in that you’re going to book with us, you always do, so that package you want that is $1,400 per person it just became $1,500 per person and my girlfriend just got a big bunch of flowers and a bottle of champagne,” said a travel agent to news.com.au. Ouch.

Next: Book like a boss.

16. Top tips when dealing with a travel agent

happy couple on summer vacation in Dubrovnik

Always look at the price breakdown. | Nadezhda1906/iStock/Getty Images

To make things easier for you if you decide to book with an agent, here is a list of the top things you need to take into consideration.

  1. Make sure you negotiate for the best price.
  2. Let your agent know you’re shopping around and you’ll likely get a better price.
  3. Buy the tours at your destination, not from your agent.
  4. Make sure you get a complete price breakdown so you know exactly what you’re paying for.

Read more: Reasons You Should Never Book a Cruise Through a Travel Agent

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