Stand by Your Value as a Travel Advisor by Charging Fees

If you ask many travel advisors how they feel about charging booking fees, many will liken it to speaking publicly in the nude or perhaps asking a new acquaintance how much money they make. “Oh, I could never do that,” they say, completely appalled. “My clients would never pay a booking fee.”  “That’s just not the way I do business,” they challenge defensively. Yet these are the same agents who work around the clock, watching people jet off to Tahiti and Paris while they hang back and spend the weekend with their grandchildren at Chuckie Cheese.

For the record, many of the travel advisors I’ve worked with are excellent at their jobs. But many started in this business at a time when airlines and hotels and well, just about all travel providers,  paid healthy commissions. Those days have long gone. And what they left behind was a profession that has taken a beating and is often considered underpaid compared to the level of expertise offered. 

It breaks my heart. 

In last week’s post, I talked about never losing a booking over the price. And I suggested that not only should you never discount your prices, but that you should charge additional fees for your services! And damn right you should.

Agents complain to me…”But Diane, why would my client pay ME to do something they could do themselves online?”

To which I respond, “Well, I don’t know, Mildred. Maybe for the same reason, I paid the Maytag repair guy an exorbitant amount of money to come out to my house last Friday to fix my dishwasher. I could have just GTS and done it myself!”  

Or maybe for the same reason I get Donna to come by my house every other week to clean up my crap when I know how to open up a bottle of Pinesol, pour it in a bucket, add water and a mop and save $150. Just because I can do it doesn’t mean I want to. AND, even if I did, it doesn’t mean I’d be doing it right. I hate baseboards! I always miss a spot. Housecleaning is simply not in my wheelhouse. 

We live in a time where it is common to outsource and pay for services. Our current economy thrives on that concept. Why should the travel industry, filled with highly educated and experienced advisors who offer real value, be any dang different, Mildred!?!

Yeah…you might have guessed, I’m a bit passionate about this post. 

Okay, good. Now we know why we should charge fees, next up, how do we go about doing it?

How to introduce booking fees

I’ve heard some of my contemporaries preach that people don’t like booking fees. I think its more that people don’t appreciate hidden costs or fees that don’t have any value attached.

I’ve seen many situations where agents wait too long to introduce their fees. I can only assume that their thought process is that they want to hook the client first before scaring them off with fees. But that is not a very successful strategy. It feels deceptive. Transparency is everything. If someone doesn’t want to book with you based on your fees after you’ve indicated all the value they will receive; they aren’t your client. That’s okay. Let them go.

I do know some travel advisors who describe themselves as “Fee-Based Advisors.” I don’t know that I’d go that far. We don’t talk about fee-based lawyers or fee-based doctors. To me, that’s a bit weird. But, I would add a section on my website, front and centre, that outlines my professional fee structure. And before scheduling any consultations with clients, I would also be sure to send them a breakdown of what I charge before the consultation.

The initial consultation should always be complimentary. The client should understand that they are under no obligation to move forward with you if the two of you aren’t a good fit. However, I still think it’s disingenuous not to outline your fees in advance. This way they can make an informed decision before the initial consultation.


Introducing a tiered fee structure

As every advisor knows, different bookings have differing levels of complexity. Sometimes it’s like Christmas, and you have the client who rings up to ask you to book a simple A to B itinerary giving you their credit card at the same time. This is a very different client from the one who comes to you looking to plan a three-week multi-generational African safari inclusive of air, insurance, lodges and guided safaris. 

Two different client requirements = two different fee structures.

Instead of calling booking fees, booking fees, I prefer framing them into service bundles. Each bundle, detailing all its inclusions,  would be outlined on your website.

This allows your clients to choose which type of bundle best meets their needs and their travel style. Some clients enjoy the planning process and want to be part of it. They still want assurance that they are making the right choices, and they want you to have their back should anything go amiss. They might prefer to be more of a shotgun passenger in the travel booking process rather than occupying the backseat.

I’d recommend offering three or four different tiers depending on your style. Below are just some options that you could play with and make your own. There is no one way to do this, and the more creative you are, the better. I’m just spitballing some ideas below to get you started on brainstorming. 

Premier Package includes:

  • Research and planning
  • Itinerary presentation
  • Recommendations on hotels and airlines
  • Pre-travel checklists
  • Recommendations in destination
  • Advice on visas

Deluxe Package includes:

  • Research and planning
  • 2 Itinerary Presentations
  • Booking of all hotels, airlines, insurance, touring as required
  • Pre-travel checklists
  • Emailed travel documents
  • Maximizing inclusions to budget allowance
  • Preferential treatment based on your long-standing relationship with suppliers
  • Insider tips and benefits
  • includes up to two itinerary revisions*
  • Handling of visas where applicable
  • In-destination follow up
  • Welcome home check-in

* Be very clear about how many complementary changes and adjustments you are willing to make to an agreed itinerary. Sure, people have a right to change their minds, but there should be a limit to the number of revisions. I know agents who get caught up in doing multiple itinerary changes because they didn’t qualify their client properly from the beginning. They didn’t ask enough questions. And they also didn’t specify how many amendments would be included. So the client continues to request changes, the advisor is stuck making the changes and in the process, everyone gets frustrated, and feelings could get bruised. It doesn’t have to be that way. 

VIP Package includes:

  • All the above and…
  • In-destination restaurant/special events reservations
  • Branded physical travel documents
  • VIP Welcome package upon arrival
  • Any way you can make the experience for your client for memorable.
  • A direct line to you throughout the travel experience (sounds potentially scary, but you could structure this in a way that still allows you a life separate from your business)

And then I’d have a Group Package that is separate from FIT bookings.
The additional benefit of calling them service bundles is that it differentiates your fees from the potential fees a client may encounter above and beyond your scope. Fees such as cancellation fees, hiking permit fees, supplier deposits, airline fees, to name just a few, should all be detailed as additional. As their trusted travel advisor, your job will be to highlight all costs as far in advance as possible. Again, nobody likes unexpected charges.


How much should you charge for each tier?

How much you charge depends on the number of goodies you pack into each tier and your level of expertise. The great thing is that you can try different structures and swap them out if you feel that something is not working.

I highly recommend a VIP tier because I know people who will gladly pay for an elite service. They want absolutely everything done for them. They often have demanding jobs that require them to make tough decisions daily. They do not want that responsibility on their holiday. You have to decide what makes sense to charge for that level of value. Offering a VIP package at $100 per person probably won’t make sense, but $500 and to $1000+ per person might.

The tiered package system is just one idea to implement professional fees. I’ve also known advisors to have had success charging an hourly rate or a per diem rate or even fees based on the travel package’s overall cost. I prefer the tiered structure but who am I to argue with someone else’s success?

The secret to securing the fees is ensuring you convey your value and level of expertise in that first consultation, and you speak with confidence. You should reiterate the type of experienced travel advisor you are and speak to the type of clients that typically book through you. 

You could describe your clients as:

  • Passionate about travel yet prefer not to spend hours combing through various websites trying to discern the best quality services between multiple options
  • Dedicated to making the most of their vacation time. They fear potentially missing out on exceptional experiences because they didn’t know the right questions to ask.
  • They are people who prefer to avoid any stress related to either travel planning or in-destination issues. They understand that situations may arise, but they want someone else to handle it.
  • They appreciate your full-service approach from the onset of a travel idea to unpacking their clothes upon their return.
  • They value your years of experience as it translates into an all-round better overall holiday experience for them.

“So Mary and Jim, I’d like to get started on your travel design as soon as possible. What service bundle do you feel best meets your planning requirements?”

If you are a travel advisor reading this and already charge fees, I’d love to hear from you. How have you found success in charging fees for your services?


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