Reality Check How we get paid: The industry secret no one wants to discuss By Richard Turen / March 26, 2015 Share 1 -- Studies show that a majority of consumers don't understand how travel agents are compensated, and many travelers who generally book directly with a supplier online believe they'll be paying extra if they use our services.We want every client to understand how our compensation works. We want you to understand that a "direct booking" made with a tour company, a safari operator, a river cruise company, a cruise line or any other travel supplier includes a 10% to 20% surcharge in the vendor's published pricing, a fee that is included to cover the travel agent's commission. Thus, consumers are paying for the travel agent services if they book directly with the supplier or with an online travel agency (OTA) such as Expedia or Priceline, and the cost is the same whether or not a consumer uses a travel agent's services.Customers who book directly with a supplier get few, if any, of the services that a good travel consultant would provide. Online bookers have no clout; they are working with a commissioned "headset" who is likely to be based somewhere in Asia. They are relying on that person, who is unlikely to have ever experienced the product, to be their advocate, to offer advice and to have their back if something goes wrong. Can the "headset" tell the consumer why the product might not be the best option, assist with pre- or post-trip arrangements, counsel the traveler on the crucial issue of insurance options? No. The "headset" merely takes the built-in commission and pockets it for the company, playing consumers for suckers and insulting their intelligence by pretending they are on the customer's side.Charging clients who book directly with a supplier a 10% to 20% surcharge within their vendor pricing models is not exactly ethical, and it is rarely discussed. When travelers understand that our professional services and counseling come at no additional cost, the game changes. When consumers understand that they can work with some of the country's most respected travel consultants on a no-fee basis, the game really changes.