Love to travel? Do you often fantasize about planning your next trip or do friends always ask you for travel planning advice? You may be able to cash in on your passion by becoming a home-based travel agent.
A travel agent helps others plan vacations and trips. By doing this, they also sell travel-related products and services to end-user customers on behalf of third party travel suppliers, such as airlines, hotels and cruise lines.
Traditionally, travel agencies used to be brick and mortar which required you to work in-office but now, you have more flexibility to work online from home and don't need to go through rigorous training to get started either. Most travel agents are either self-employed or work flexible hours as an at-home agent for a travel company. I will mention some of those companies that hire agents later in this post.
I recently sat down with my friend GiGi (a home-based travel agent for the past year) to learn first hand about what it takes to get started and become successful.
Why Become a Travel Agent?
People become interested in this profession for a variety of reasons. For Gigi, this job represented skills and interests she already had which made it seem fulfilling.
“I consider myself a researcher,” Gigi says. “I help people figure out what travel experience they want. Some people come to me because they want to travel, but don't know where to go so I use my travel systems and vendors to help them save time by researching their options and save lots of money on the actual trip.”
Since Gigi is a certified travel agent, she has a relationship with back-office vendors that the average person can't even access. These vendors provide her with discounted rates on travel-related products to offer her clients.
Some people may not think they need a travel agent with sites like Expedia and TripAdvisor, but the role of an experienced travel agent is still very necessary if you want a guaranteed way to save time, money, and travel-related headaches when booking your trip.
Aside from helping other people book dream vacations and trips, you also might want to become a travel agent so you can travel more yourself by using direct discounts from back-end vendors. Think of it as an employee discount.
“I realized I could travel on a budget by using the travel agent systems I now have access to in order to receive rates at 70% less than the advertised prices,” Gigi added.
A Typical Day…
Gigi works as a travel agent part-time. She is a single mom going to school and also working a full-time job. She loves how flexible and fun this side job is since she can do it from anywhere during her spare time.
A ‘typical day' doing travel agent work is never the same but usually involves some research, communicating with clients and vendors over the phone and through email, and developing custom travel plans and options for clients.
She has her own search engine site that is a one-stop-shop where people can look at travel packages and compare destinations, hotels, rental car options, and more.
How to Get Started
You don't need to become a certified travel agent to get started, but Gigi chose to because she knew it would give her more training in order to enhance the experience for clients.
She took a course through Xtreme Travel University in order to get certified. After successfully completing the course, she then gained access to the TraVerus Global travel vendor network system to use to help clients book affordable trips.
Aside from having an interest in travel and possibly a certification, you'll also need a phone and a computer with high-speed internet. Gigi privatizes her cell phone number in order to have a separate phone number solely for business. This is a simple way keep personal calls and those for your home-based business separate while still using just one phone.
As a travel agent, you'll want to work through a company like TraVerus so you can get access to discounted travel-related products and create your own professional search engine website for your business.
Companies That Hire Travel Agents
Most travel agents earn a commission. If don't want to start your own solo business when you obtain your certification, you could work with a travel agent network or apply for employment with a well-known company in the travel industry.
Some of the best travel agent networks include:
All of these companies provide ongoing training and support. Other options for employment include these companies:
- American Express Travel Counselors — American Express hires travel counselors which are at-home agents to help with booking travel arrangements, events ticketing, and more. The company offers full and part-time positions for this role.
- Red Butler — Red Butler is a company that hires dedicated assistants to provide virtual services for businesses. One of the tasks/roles is a travel specialist.
- Various Disney-oriented organizations like Travel with the Magic. Many of these are commission-based, and you receive a portion of the booking fee for every booking you make. If you’re a Disney enthusiast, helping other people plan their dream Disney vacation is a great way to make money online!
- Cruise.com — If you want to help people book and plan their cruise vacations, this site hires at-home agents. This job involves a lot of phone work but you'll mostly be handling incoming calls and inquiries, answering questions, and providing information about different cruises to recommend. The goal is to create a dream cruise package to sell customers so they don't have to do any of the planning work on their end.
How Does Compensation Work?
According to research from the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), home-based agents' annual income can vary greatly. The minimum was $8,500, the median $31,056, and the maximum was $80,000 per year.
Agents who work in niche markets like corporate travel or destination weddings can earn considerably more. Gigi is paid by commission from her vendors and each vendor has their own percentage.
“Most vendors typically have a commission rate of 10% to 30%”, she says. “High-end hotels will usually give 30% but airlines usually don't pay commission so I tend to direct clients to airline sites where they can book their own flights.”
If a client is insisting on assistance with booking their flight, Gigi says she is always more than willing to help regardless if it will enhance their travel experience. It's also important to note that Gigi doesn't get compensated until clients actually book a travel package. While research is a crucial part of the job, it helps to work with clients who are serious about booking travel in order to make the best use of your time.
Home-based travel agents often work as independent contractors which means you'll be responsible for paying your own taxes. Be sure to deduct expenses like office expenses, your cell phone and internet bill, fuel costs if you have to travel to meet up with a client, along with marketing and advertising expenses.
Tips For Becoming Successful
Gigi had a few tips for new or aspiring travel agents to become successful and I was all ears. Quality of service is important to Gigi and has contributed to her business success. She researches and plans trips for others the same persistence and attention to detail as if she was planning a trip for herself.
“People can probably hear me smiling during our phone call,” Gigi said. “Travel is an experience. People see something that they've never seen before and it's exciting so you must be friendly and approachable.”
Her next piece of advice is to trust the process.
“You can't become discouraged just because you don't book with someone,” she says. “You have to network and be friendly to build your business because your customers to feel comfortable coming back to you when they're ready and even refer their friends.”
It's also important to be a great researcher and be well educated about travel. “Even if you've never been to a certain location, you should be educated about it and make it sound like you've been there. You must know about every little detail from the weather and transportation system to other insider tips.”
Finally, Gigi recommends that you market well to grow your business and consider a niche.
“Friends and family aren't the only people you should be targeting because you'll run out of prospects fast”, she says. Gigi focuses on marketing to people on a larger scale by using social media and her own travel Facebook page, attending expos and conferences, as well as utilizing word of mouth referrals.
It's also important to be constantly learning about the industry to improve yourself which is why she also recommends taking webinars from travel vendors to keep your skills sharp.
Would you ever consider becoming a home-based travel agent? What would you like best about the job?