It's not every agent who gets profiled in a front-page piece in the
New York Times' Sunday Styles section headlined "Reservationist to
the Stars." But for Manhattan-based Bill Fischer, the story (which
appeared in the Sept. 20 edition) was a mixed blessing.
The article called him a "travel agent extraordinary, who
specializes in getting people into sold-out hotels, onto overbooked
flights and into restaurants with unlisted phone numbers" and gave
many examples of his blue-chip client list. But the piece also
charged that Fischer overpays to get premium service from hotels
and restaurants and passes the cost on to clients, quoting two
anonymous clients (one actually an ex-client) who felt gouged by
high service fees.
Fischer, owner of Fischer Travel, got his chance to rebut these
charges in the piece, noting that he "absolutely [does] not" grease
palms unduly to get service and that his clients can well afford
charges that include an initial $10,000 fee. "It's not about the
money. It's about getting what [the clients] need," he told Travel
And what is probably the most damning quote in the piece --
"They are so rich, what's 10 or 20 thousand to them?" -- was taken
out of context, Fisher said. Those sums were his estimate of what a
client had to pay to charter a plane at the last minute to make a
business meeting, and he was noting that time was more important
than money to the client just then.
Though Fischer was "unhappy" after he'd read the article, most
of the responses from clients and friends have been positive, he
said. And though having clients complain that they're being
overcharged is perhaps every agent's worst nightmare, he's not
really worried. And he shouldn't be, noted former industry
consultant (now Travelsavers senior vice president) John Dalton.
"If an agency can give extraordinary service to differ from its
competitors, go ahead and charge a fee," Dalton said.
Still, Dalton agreed that charging $1,500 to have a client's
daughter receive the client's frequent flyer miles -- another
charge in the article -- was "out of bounds. He charges for premium
services, but that's not a premium service."
Up, up and away
How can agents
get clients to buy an expensive vacation when so many other
products are competing for a consumer's discretionary dollars?
Linda Allen, an independent agent located in Harrison, Ark., does
it by helping "to give clients the psychological permission to make
the decision" and focusing on the following themes:Client dreams. "What have you always dreamed of doing?" is a
good question to start with, she noted. "There is no time like the
present to plan on fulfilling dreams" is another key point.Memories. Allen sells the fact that "this trip will not only be
one of the best vacations imaginable; it will provide you the type
of memories that will last you a lifetime. You will never be able
to think about this wonderful experience without feeling a warm
These techniques "allow the client to justify an expenditure
than could have been used for something else," she said. "Since
most of my clients are educated boomers, all they really need to
know is why they need to do it now rather than later."
She added, "I use this same type of logic to sell up. I sell a
great many balcony cabins and suites to first-time cruisers. I have
never had clients come back and say they wish they had bought a
cheaper cabin. I have had them come back and say they wish they had
bought a more expensive cabin and that the extra cost would have
been well worth it."
Pay for play?
Is commission-only pay the wave of the future? Industry experts
say that agents should be compensated when they produce. When agent
pay is actually geared to product sales, they say, everybody wins
-- both front-line agents and agency owners.
At Travel Weekly, we're trying to get a feel for how the typical
agency handles the issue of compensation. Agency owners, how do you
pay your agents? Salary only? Salary plus commission? Commission
We're surveying agents in this week's InstaPoll on Crossroads.
If you haven't yet, please go to the home page and answer the poll.
We're also looking for case histories from agency owners who fit
into each of the three pay categories, as well as stories from
front-line agents. Agency owners might answer the following
- Has moving to a commission-based pay structure increased agency
profits? By how much?
- If your agency was previously on salary, how did you ease your
agents into the new system?
- If your agency pays commissions, what kind of formula do you
use for determining what commissions are?
- If you have a commission-only agency, how do you handle the
potential problem of competition among agents?
- And if you're still paying your agents salary only, we'd like
to know, too.
Front-line agents, we'd like to know:
- Everybody says that agents on commission-based systems should
make more money. Is this really true?
- If you are making more money, how much has your pay gone
- If you're on a commission-only system, are you feeling more
competitive with your fellow agents?
E-mail answers to Travel Weekly's Agent Life editor, Phyllis
Fine, at [email protected]; fax (201) 319-1947; or go to the Agent Issues Forum on Crossroads and post a
response there. Thanks!
Ever feel like a bartender counseling the weary, or a
psychiatrist who's not getting paid by the hour? You're not
Steve Chase, an agent at Orange Belt Travel in Bartow, Fla.,
came up with the following schedule of service fees for demanding
clients, as a joke to be shared with the industry only:Nervous Nellie comfort fee: $10.Post-trip belly-aching fee: $10.Standard P.I.N. (pain in the neck) surcharge: $10.Lost baggage fuss fee: $10.Weather grumble fee: $10.Seat selection ad nauseum fee: $25.Client emotional venting fee: $25.Psychiatric referral fee (for more advanced emotional venting):
The agency does have real fees, said manager Nancy Pennington.
"I believe that agents do a lot more than ticket process," she
Shopping for a kennel
Want to help clients who are nervous about having to board Fifi
while traveling? According to Best Friends Pet Resorts, a Norwalk,
Conn.-based group of upscale kennels throughout the U.S., clients
should consider the following when shopping for a kennel:Certification. Is the kennel a member of the American Boarding
Kennel Association (ABKA) and the American Grooming Shop
Association (AGSA)?Odor. Clients can use their noses as a tip-off to sanitary
conditions. They should also ask to inspect living quarters for
overall cleanliness and avoid kennels that disallow complete
inspections.Safety. Ask about precautions against "pet escapes."Food: Ask if feeding times are flexible. Can clients provide
their pets' own food?Cages: Don't board dogs where they will be caged. Cat cages
should be roomy.Exercise. Most pets need to be walked and played with
regularly. Are such services offered?
Net NewsParadise Vacations Online. This destination information site,
operated by San Diego-based Sandesa Inc., might give your
beach-bound clients a feel for where they would like to go in the
Caribbean, Hawaii, the Bahamas or Mexico. Check out: www.paradise-vacations.comBill McFarlane & Assoc. This Mill Valley, Calif.-based
technology and management consulting firm provides a nice example
of using the Web as an on-line business card and brochure of its
services. Bill McFarlane is, among other things, a former president
of Aqua Software in Santa Ana, Calif., and former vice president
and general manager of Galileo North America. Go to www.billmcfarlane.com
Compiled by Jennifer Dorsey. E-mail suggestions to [email protected].