Packages fatten agents' pockets

NEW YORK -- In agents' eyes, a ski package has many moving parts: air, hotel, car rental, airport transfer and lift tickets, for starters.

Ski lessons are a common add-on; equipment rentals can be, too. At the same time, there are plenty of alternatives to skiing -- such as spa treatments, evening sleigh rides, soaking in hot springs -- that can add to a vacation and help beef up commissions.

In the end, it can add up because a ski vacation already is a profitable sale.

For many families, a week-long vacation at a resort region to which the family has returned year after year is a non-negotiable fact of life.

Even those taking shorter ski trips often are vacationing for four nights.

Generally, skiers loathe spending just a weekend pursuing their sport. They want as much time on the mountain -- or at least at the resort -- as they can get.

Jim Muller, destination product manager for Mountain Vacations, a division of Funjet Vacations, said he has the numbers to tell the story.

Muller's figures show that 10 typical ski vacations equal $3,500 in commissions compared with $2,250 for the same number of Las Vegas vacations.

And, with all the components that a ski or mountain vacation package can include, that's just the beginning.

"I think that is where travel agents look at this and say, 'Wow, I really should start adding ski to my mix,' " Muller said.

There are other ways to add to an agency's bottom line by selling ski.

Aspen Ski Tours sells coach as well as first class air in its ski packages. That works to agencies' advantage in two ways.

First, the first class fare in the Aspen Ski Tours package is less than half the price of normal first class fares, according to Barry Lefkowitz, vice president of marketing. And because that fare is bundled into the package, agencies earn a full commission on that fare.

As another example, American Airlines Vacations offers summer and fall packages to western Canada's Lake Louise that have amenities or activities built in (and for which agents earn a commission).

These can include breakfast and dinner, spa treatments and a mountain adventure, all commissionable components.

These packages start at just under $900 (without air) for three nights.

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