Brick-and-mortar travel agencies are hard to find nowadays, but that doesn’t mean that the industry has disappeared. A good number of travel agencies and agents operate from home and make a considerable income by booking flights or cruises or arranging travel packages. And because most travel agencies operate online, it’s now easier than ever to work at home as a travel agent.

What exactly does a work at home travel agent do?

A travel agent does more than just book a flight or hotel room; in this day and age, such tasks can easily be done by simply going online and hitting a few keys. No, a travel agent works with customers to find the lowest cost package deals that include airfare, rental cars, hotel stays, and attractions. Alternately, a travel agent may offer unique tours or travel amenities that a regular customer would have no knowledge of otherwise.

Travel agents also remain “on call” and “on the hook” for customers who are already on their trips and experiencing issues. To this end, the travel agent needs to work quickly to resolve the issue and minimize customer frustration.

Other customers may not have issues but will suddenly want to extend their stay or add a different location or attraction as part of their travel itinerary. To this end, the travel agent must again work quickly to find out which flights, accommodations, etc. are available and make the necessary adjustments.

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In effect, the travel agent operates like a high-end customer service representative. The compensation for such service is a percent commission from the profit side of the travel service actually sold, be it a cruise, flight, hotel stay, etc. Because markups for travel services are quite high, a seasoned travel agent can make thousands of dollars in income during a single month.

The average traveler, no matter how savvy, almost never learns about or receives the base price on a travel service. This is because the average traveler only books a travel service for himself and his family at best. However, because a travel agent orders such services in bulk, she obtains a sizable discount- and then keeps a good chunk of the markup that is paid by the customer as her commission.

Best of all, travel agents can easily perform all these services from home using just a phone to talk with the customer. In some cases, repeat customers simply email their travel request in and let the travel agent do the rest. Technology has truly empowered the work at home travel agent.

Because the key to making hefty commissions is to buy travel services in bulk, the newbie travel agent who does not yet have a large customer base is well advised to sign up with a host agency first. There are numerous host agencies out there- Host Agency Reviews lists a good number of them and posts reviews by travel agents.

Why join a host travel agency?

Aside from already having a large customer base to draw on, a host travel agency offers many perks to the budding travel agent. These perks are as follows:

Training and networking: It takes time to learn the nuances of when flights are the cheapest or cruise lines are itching to fill their cabins, for example. The host travel agency will get you up-to-speed on such matters and train you in other skills like marketing, negotiating and handling customer complaints.

Likewise, other travel agents can easily advise new trainees on the best strategies for booking holiday travel, which customers will like certain package deals, and even the destinations that should be avoided at given times (e.g., August through October is hurricane season in Florida).

Association memberships: Memberships in associations like CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association, Inc.) or IATA (International Airlines Travel Agent Network) provide agents with direct access to suppliers so that they can best negotiate base prices and bulk rates. Individual travel agents are always welcome to join these associations- but the membership fees run several hundred dollars per year. Agencies usually have memberships in most travel associations and can pass their membership status onto their contracting agents.

Supplier agreements: Host travel agencies have supplier agreements in place thanks to having worked with these suppliers for many years. As a result, the newbie travel agent can jump in and take advantage of sizable travel discounts without having to haggle or shop around for the best deal.

Insurance: In most cases, travel agents are well advised to purchase errors and omissions insurance in case an angry customer asks for a travel reimbursement or a complete refund- even if the travel agent is not at fault. To this end, most host travel agencies cover their travel agents under an umbrella insurance policy.

Seller of Travel registration: The states of California, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Nevada and Washington require that travel agents be registered as a “Seller of Travel” if providing travel services to clients living in the noted states. This is required even if the travel agent himself lives in a state that does not require this registration. A host agency, however, can also be registered as a Seller of Travel for all necessary states and pass that registration onto its contractors.

What does a host agency not provide?

Bonding: Many travel agents are requested or even required by the host agency to purchase a surety bond for a minimum amount of $600. This surety bond “assures” the customer that an agent has put her own money up-front in case something unforeseen occurs during the arranged travel and the customer experiences a monetary loss.

Website setup and fees: A work at home travel agent is in some respects akin to a franchisee of the host agency. As such, he is expected to drum up his own business and purchase his own marketing plan. Nowadays, a basic marketing plan involves (at the very least) setting up a website and purchasing a domain name.

What else should a travel agent keep in mind?

Many, though not all, host agencies ask for a start-up fee in order to sign on with them. This fee is charged because the agency provides memberships and other perks to the travel agent which do need to be paid for by somebody. If no start-up fee is charged, then a larger share of the agent’s commission may be requested. All in all, travel agents will pay their host agencies either up-front or via commission sharing; i.e., there is no situation where an agency will just train and support its agents for free.

Travel agents should also consider how they will differentiate themselves from the many other agents already out there. One way to do this is to learn about a particular travel niche and own it. For example, a US-based travel agent could advertise and offer trips to Cuba through research and educational agencies. Alternately, a travel agent could specialize in travel to unexpected locales like Antarctica.

As the travel agent expands her business and grows her client base, she may at some point wish to break away from the host agency and start her own agency. She may even wish to start recruiting her own contractors and taking a portion of their commissions or collecting start-up fees. This is a wonderful development and usually indicates that the travel agent can now earn a more passive income by leveraging the efforts of others.

Finally, a travel agent can book some very cheap travel packages for himself and others. This is a great work perk and makes this line of work not only lucrative but fun.

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