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As I See It

Recently four major airlines eliminated travel agent commissions entirely on domestic flights. Woe be unto the poor slug who’s planning a trip with multiple destinations, several different airlines, a tight schedule and a modest budget. The traditional solution to the problem, contacting a travel agent and having them do the legwork, may be a thing of the past. Unless travel agents are unusually magnanimous and are willing to work for nothing, converting your flight requirements into flight arrangements may very well become your baby.

This action by the airlines is the final slash in a gradual process of chopping away at travel agent commissions that began years ago. Originally, agents were paid a percentage of the ticket cost at a commission rate sufficient to support the industry. Then the system was changed to a flat fee per ticket. And finally the new change to no compensation from the airlines to travel agents for handling flight booking.

If travel agents stop booking airline flights, the only option is to get the tickets directly from the airline. This can be done either by telephone or on the Internet. My experience in buying tickets directly from the airlines by phone was frustrating. I could have read Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” while impatiently holding for an airline representative to get around to me. The process got worse, a lot worse, if I didn’t have all the information I needed when the airline representative finally fielded my call. I then had to get the missing information and call back and begin the process all over again with a new novel and a new representative. And that’s not all.

Don’t hold your breath until an airline representative points out that you can save hundreds of dollars by flying into Long Beach rather than LAX and the drive to downtown Los Angeles from there is about the same. Same thing with flying into Newark rather than New York’s JFK or LaGuardia. Further, if you want to enjoy the tremendous cost savings from flying to San Francisco on Saturday for a Monday meeting rather than traveling on Sunday, you will have to root that information out for yourself.

Without presuming to second-guess the airline industry, it is fair to point out that this policy will have a devastating impact on both the travel agents and small businesses.

According to the American Society of Travel Agents, there are approximately 25,000 agencies and 300,000 travel agents in the U.S. Gradually, and then abruptly, their livelihood has been whittled away to nothing for a significant portion of their business. Many will throw in the towel and move on to another line of work. Others will find ways to adjust and continue in the travel business. There is still money to be made in packaging cruises and arranging hotel accommodations. That will be of little consolation to one summoned to Luckenbach, for a business meeting tomorrow morning with one of the 13 residents of Luckenbach.

Small businesses will take it on the chin too. Large companies have internal travel departments that function as in-house travel agents. Small businesses don’t have that luxury. For them, the independent travel agent has served the function of an outsourced company travel department. Time is money and it’s likely that staff will be spending a lot more time making travel arrangements as a result of this change.

I regret the likely demise of travel agents as a component of my business team. I have enjoyed saving money and experiencing excellent accommodations and side venues suggested by my travel agents over the years. In fact, I won’t willingly give up the pleasure, convenience and economy of having a travel agent participate in my travel planning. I will pay them a fee for their time and efforts in helping me steer between the ditches.

I don’t think I am alone in valuing the services of travel agents. There will continue to be a demand for their services and I believe that lot’s of folks will gladly pay for them on top of the ticket cost.

The future for travel agents is definitely not as bright as in the past. Many will abandon ship. Many will charge a fee for making flight arrangements.

All in all, we will get where we want to go when we need to get there. It probably won’t be as much fun as before, but we’ll manage.

Thought for the Moment — Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

— Hebrews 13:1

About Joe D. Jones

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