To do air or not to do air? That is the question...
Updated: Oct 26, 2020
I recently attended a regional conference with some of my fellow Travel Expert colleagues. I was really surprised to find out about half of them do not offer booking airline reservations as part of their services. I guess as someone who came from working for an airline, then spending a few years as a corporate travel consultant focusing on making airlines reservations (and hotel and rental car reservations) for my accounts, the thought of not offering flight reservations never even occurred to me! It truly was an astonishing concept.
But I've been doing a lot of thinking on it lately. Most clients do not realize the amount of work that goes into airline reservations. Actually booking them is not too difficult, but maintaining them can be very time consuming. There are usually schedule changes that have to be worked, which often requires exchanging the electronic ticket, making sure any special service requirements are confirmed, confirming seat assignments, etc. And then if there are any delays or cancellations during a client's trip, that's a whole separate nightmare. I recall being on the phone with the airlines until 11pm on a Sunday night, after getting a call from a client at 7pm advising me they had received a message that their entire itinerary for the next morning had been canceled due to computer issues with the airline! Or the time I was on my way to an important dinner, on the phone with the airlines for 45 minutes because my client had not been able to check-in online for his flight home from Italy. Or recently, when a client messaged me that they had been able to find a business class fare that was $3000 less than what I had quoted them, (It ended up she was looking at a premium economy fare, that was branded in a very confusing way on the airline's website...and was the fare I had given her a couple of hours earlier.) I ended up going home and doing all the research again to make sure I had not missed something before she sent me the link that was the same fare as I had quoted.
I sometimes get questioned about the service fees ($30 for domestic tickets, $50 for international) I charge for booking reservations as well. Many clients do not realize that airlines usually do not pay commissions to agents for making reservations, and in fact, we have to pay for access to a reservation booking platform. The airlines are also very quick to send a debit memo in the event an agent does not cancel an unticketed reservation in time, or there is some confusion on a ticket exchange, or all kinds of various issues that may cause pricing discrepancies. I remember in the days before my decades long retirement, we had sales representatives that worked with us to help correct issues like that, but these days, we're just hung out to dry.
I think of all these things, and think maybe those colleagues are the smart ones. But then again, I really enjoy being able to offer my clients all their travel needs in one place. And to be honest, I'm a bit of a control freak and like being able to coordinate the rest of their trip with the flight arrangements knowing that there are no issues with miscommunications and wrong dates booked. (I have heard stories of people making their own flight arrangements, not realizing that their arrival would be the following day, and they booked their flight to arrive the day after their Mediterranean cruise was sailing. A very costly mistake that booking with an agent would have saved.) I don't think I'll drop offering airlines reservations anytime in the near future...and actually the airlines are starting to shift back to realizing travel agents are their partners when it comes to servicing client's travel needs...but I am realizing that in my second reiteration in this business, I enjoy the leisure side, and working with tour suppliers, destination managers, and cruise lines, a lot more.