Want to make good money selling air? Then use consolidators, who
can provide "more profit for you, and more flexibility for
clients," according to Susan Tanzman, owner of Martin's Travel and
Tours in Los Angeles.
With either net fares or (often) higher commissions than
airlines pay directly to agents, consolidators give agents "a high
profit margin product," said Tanzman, speaking at ASTA's Eastern
Regional meeting, held at the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket,
Conn., earlier this month.
Since there's usually no advance purchase needed, you can use
consolidators for last-minute tickets. "That's where you can really
help your clients," said Tanzman.
But agents need to be extra careful with this segment of the
business, she added. She recommended developing a notebook of
preferred consolidators that you've checked out extensively.
Designate one person in the office to keep the notebook up to date,
asking consolidators the following questions:How much play do they offer you in pricing? Do they provide net
fares or pay commission? If it's the latter, what's the commission?
With net fares, you can usually add 15% to 20% and still have a low
enough price to make the consumer happy.What destinations do they serve? Which airlines do they have
contracts with? Ask for references at the carriers and actually
call to check them out. Conversely, if you're interested in
specific carriers or destinations, you also can call your airline
reps to find out who their preferred consolidators are.Do they offer business and first class tickets?How long have they been in business? Three to five years is
preferable.What are typical yearly sales? "If they've only done one or two
million, they're very small," said Tanzman. "You have to wonder if
they have clout or if they can get you tickets that you want when
you want them."What associations do they belong to? These affiliations -- from
ASTA to the Airlines Reporting Corp. -- bring credibility. For
Tanzman, "belonging to the United States Tour Operators Association
is the best seal of approval."Ask for references of agents who work with them, and call the
agents as well.Do they sell directly to the public? If yes, don't deal with
them -- they're competing directly with you.Will they allow changes on tickets? And how much will they
charge for each change? Ask the company to send you every possible
restriction they have in writing, by fax. This is important because
fees for cancellations, etc., can be so expensive that they wipe
out the savings on the ticket. Ask about advance purchases and
Saturday-night stays -- two requirements for regular air tickets
that are waived in many cases with consolidators.Do they give clients frequent flyer points? If the answer is
no, many clients will say no thanks to consolidators.Will the agency receive credit for sales with airlines?
Surprisingly, many airlines will allow credit on consolidator
sales. Even if they don't, you should still keep track of carriers
you sell through consolidators. When it's time to talk to the
airlines about overrides, "you can say, 'Look at what I sold for
you, not just on the CRS but also through consolidators.' You can
use these sales as a bargaining chip to get better overrides," said
Tanzman.Will they accept credit cards? "If they say no, I'd be nervous
about using them for an expensive ticket," said Tanzman.
Using the credit card is one more leg of protection for the
client and for you, since with a credit card, clients can get a
refund if they don't get service. In fact, if clients don't book
with a credit card, Tanzman recommended getting a waiver from the
client "since the extent of your liability just went up," she
noted. For example, if someone doesn't make a meeting due to
problems with a flight, the potential liability includes not just
the cost of a ticket but the loss of revenue from missing that
When is a flight confirmed? It can be at the time of the
initial booking or when the consolidator receives payment from the
client.Is the fare that you the travel agent paid shown on the ticket?
If it's a net fare, "that could be embarrassing," said Tanzman.
"You don't need to be put in that position with a client -- you'll
Tanzman also provided a list of some of the favorite
consolidators in her notebook:Air Tickets, New York, (800) 207-7300
Brendan Air, Van Nuys, Calif., (800) 491-9633
DER Travel Services, Rosemont, Ill., (800) 717-4247
Picasso Travel, Los Angeles, (800) 742-2776 or (310)
Jetset Tours, Los Angeles, (800) NET-FARE or (323) 290-5800
Japan & Orient Tours, San Diego, (800) 877-8111 or (619)
She also said she'd heard of a consolidator that had net fares
on Virgin Atlantic Airways to London -- San Francisco-based Celtic,
Ways to make money on air
on profitable air and consolidator sales from Susan Tanzman, owner
of Martin's Travel and Tours in Los Angeles:See if your preferred consolidators can provide you with
software offering direct access into their inventory. Using this
software enables you do to an initial price check between the
consolidator fare and the lowest price on the CRS -- and you might
be able to add your price mark-up automatically to the
consolidator's net fares, as well.Approach carriers directly if you can give them consistent
business. For example, Tanzman was selling 15 roundtrip tickets to
Hong Kong every quarter, so she started bargaining directly with
the carrier. Now she has good fares for her clients, as well as
double-digit commissions.It pays to establish relationships and find one key person to
deal with at your preferred consolidators.Think three times before using e-tickets with consolidators.
With a foreign carrier going overseas, e-tickets are a definite
no-no, said Tanzman, in case a problem comes up. But with a
domestic carrier, "I wouldn't be as nervous."Develop a form letter on consolidators that you can send to
corporate clients, saying something like, "This is a way to save
you money, but you need to follow procedures carefully." This
tactic makes "you look extremely professional," said Tanzman.
"You're helping them to manage their travel budget, an extra
service for them."Missing the train
All the industry
experts are telling us to jump on the fast track to catch the train
speeding down the Internet route. Thousands of sites are opening
every millisecond, and 75% seem to have to do with travel. We don't
want to be left at the station.
But wait a moment. Aren't the majority of leisure travelers
still 55 years of age and older and non-computer users? Sometimes,
we can be more successful doing niche marketing than trying to
appeal, with a Web site, to the entire universe of consumers. No
one can deny the necessity of being Internet-savvy when it comes to
research. But what about the more than 70% of affluent retirees who
are not computer-literate?
I have a feeling that service-oriented, old-fashioned,
face-to-face leisure travel sellers will still be able to prosper
by identifying that majority of consumers in the nontech niche.
Richard Turen is managing director of the Churchill Group, a
consulting firm, and president of the agency Churchill & Turen
Ltd., both based in Naperville, Ill. Contact him at [email protected].Agent wins contest
Linda Kirk, an agent at AAA Travel Agency in Sarasota, Fla., has
a favorite cruise line -- Holland America Line. That's because she
just won $1,999 in the Holland America Bucks Bonanza.
Kirk booked $300,000 worth of Holland America products between
Oct. 1 and Nov. 30, 1998 -- the most of any agency in the country.
She received her model of an enormous check and a bouquet of
flowers during a special morning staff meeting.
Pictured from left are Rosa Maduca, director of travel agency
operations, AAA Auto Club South; Gary Lewis, regional director, AAA
Auto Club South; Lynda Hines, division manager of the Sarasota
Downtown Auto Club South office; the winner, Kirk; Jim Sweat,
managing director of travel services, AAA Auto Club South; Heidi Jo
Olsen, district sales manager, Holland America Line, and Gary
Halloran, travel manager of the Sarasota Downtown AAA travel agency
office.International car rental hints
Khalidi, president of Portland, Maine-based Auto Europe, offers
these tips for booking international car rentals:Book ahead. It is always less expensive to book rentals before
departure; you could save clients up to 50%.Beware of bait-and-switch. Some rental companies do not quote
all the mandatory surcharges, taxes and fees in their prices. Be
sure to compare "apples to apples" when shopping for rates; make
sure the cars are the same or comparable and that the same
surcharges and taxes are included in the rates.Warn clients they'll be getting smaller cars. Be sure your
clients have realistic expectations about the number of people and
amount of luggage. Cars in other countries generally have bucket
seats in front, which can accommodate only two people.Rental fleets vary from country to country. A car that may be
considered an intermediate in one country could be classified as a
compact in another.Rental cars in other countries always have manual transmissions
unless the voucher specifically states an automatic has been
reserved.When making a reservation, be sure to mention every country
your clients will visit by car. There are restrictions on luxury
models entering Italy, and most vehicles cannot be driven into
eastern Europe.In most cases, domestic one-way rentals have no additional
fees. International one-way fees can be substantial; keep this in
mind when planning an itinerary.