Lately I heard that people worry about trusting a travel agent or travel advisor (the new buzz word, same meaning). I had never thought about it before. I always say I would make a horrible criminal because my mind just doesn't work like that. Perhaps my biggest fault is trusting another too much.
I listened to the concerns being expressed, and I heard that some travel agents are DISHONEST or at least poor money managers, and they have earned us all "a reputation". I heard that agents have been known to collect money from people that they never apply to a booking, or send off to the travel supplier. The client thinks they are booked and perhaps even paid in full, but no legitimate reservation exists.
OMG - right?
So I decided to write this post, because there is ONE easy way to tell if the Travel Agent you are dealing with is Ethical or not. All you have to do is:
Consider how they are asking you to pay them.
RED FLAGS of DISHONESTY
Your agent is asking you to "PayPal" "Venmo" or "CashApp" some money directly to them.
They might just be trying to avoid splitting the "planning fee" with their host agency.. but that too is fraudulent. They have a contractual agreement to share any and all profit earned with their "headquarters" "home office" "host agency" - whatever you want to call it. Don't help them cheat by sending money via any flavor of electronic transfer.
If you send money to a person's name - you have NO IDEA what they actually do with it!
Your Agent asks you to write a check to their personal name, or their travel agency company name. This is exactly how travel agencies have gotten in trouble. They collected money from a client, put it in their bank, and then spent the money on something else, thinking that they would apply the money to the client's booking LATER, and the never client noticed. And then something happened... money didn't come from another source as planned or whatever.
Lets face it - our society does not run on "checks" anymore. Anyone who is reasonably responsible with money has a way to pay with a card. Paying with a Credit or Debit card offers an amount of protection and assurance to the agent AND client. It is the way we do it today!
If you write a check to a person or company they have to put that check in a matching bank account. Sure, you can prove you paid them but if they never paid the travel supplier, you have a real mess..
Your Agent is asking you for CASH! They say that you booked at the last minute and cash is required. BULLSHIT! Even the shuttle bus companies take card payments now.
If you give cash to someone - you have NO IDEA what they will actually do with it!
Your Client offers you Cash! If your client doesn't have a card, they can find someone who does. They can give cash or a check to their Mom, but not to YOU!
If your client gives you cash, and you make a card payment on their behalf, and the cash turns out to be counterfit - you lose.
DO NOT PAY ANYONE BUT A TRAVEL SUPPLIER OR KNOWN AGGREGATE FOR YOUR TRAVEL BOOKINGS and NEVER PAY WITH CASH!
SOMETHING THAT SEEMS SHADY - BUT MAY NOT BE
Some agents charge a legitimate "Planning Fee". This is an amount of money to cover their time spent on your research, in the event that you don't book with them and therefore they don't earn a commission. Or it is a fee for service that is above and beyond the scope of normal services - for higher quality or more hand holding. They may ask for this money up front, before they do ANY work on your behalf. This is the ONE and ONLY time you should pay any money directly to your Agent, in their personal or company name. The burden is on you to thoroughly check their references first. People LOVE to share who they know! Ask them.
This type of fee may also be called a "booking fee" that is payable with your deposit, or even with your final payment. But this is the ONLY money that should be paid directly to your Agent or to their Agency/Company name.
Some people think you "Pay More" because SOME Agents have fees. This is simply not true. As in life "you get what you pay for". Watch our short YouTube Video specific to Cruise Travel (our Specialty). The best kept secret is that the cruise line pays us so you don't have to!
You should only ever see one transaction on your credit card statement transferring money to your Agent or their Agency/Company. (ABC Travel Agency)
ALL other money should be paid DIRECTLY to a travel supplier.
By travel supplier I mean an airline, cruise line, certain hotel or an online Travel Fare Aggregator like Expedia, Verbo or Hotels.com
Most Legitimate Travel Agents now have their own websites with trust worthy search engines that offer live inventory and flight or room selection. If a website is directly linked to the travel supplier, it is most likely legit. But check it out - do a quick google search for the terms " Is ___abc travel agency___ legit?" At your agent's site, you should be able to get all the way through your desired booking and pay a deposit by entering the card data yourself. If you can select a room at a certain hotel or on a certain cruise, the site you are at is directly linked to the travel supplier and the payment you apply will go directly to them. Hyatt Hotel, Princess Cruises, Viking Cruises, or whomever you book with will be what appears on your Credit Card Statement. NOT your travel agent's name or company.
Ask, and research. What Travel Organizations do they belong to. Major Organizations Include
CLIA - Cruise Lines International Association
ASTA - American Society of Travel Advisors
IATA - International Air Transport Authority
All three of these organizations require a minimal level of performance and affiliation with a reputable company, for membership. Both Businesses and Individuals memberships are avaiable. fyi: Between my husband and I, we belong to all three. You can ask the agent for a member number and look up the individual, or business, on the association website. CLIA (Our favorite, since we specialize in cruises) has a wonderful "Agent Finder" feature. <click here> and enter your zipcode.
Your agent asks you to use a form to authorize a specific transaction in a specific amount to be paid directly to a travel supplier in your name with your credit card. Yes - it's okay to give them your card data! They are only authorized to use it as your agent, directed by you, in writing. If they use it in any other way you are not responsible for the charges. Each time your agent makes a payment, on your behalf, using your card data - you should be authorizing it using a new form with a new and specific amount signed by you.
Your agent asks you for a photo of one of your checks. Your banks routing number and account number appear on each of your checks. Viking Cruises gives a generous discount to clients who pay with an electronic check. Your agent can pay Viking using the numbers that appear across the bottom of your check as an e-check, on your behalf. This is legitimate and you will receive a 3% discount from Viking for doing so. In this scenario Viking saves the fee that the Credit Card company would charge them for processing the transaction, so they are willing to give it to YOU.
Your agent offers a "Traveler Portal". An online place that is only accessible to you using login credentials that you set, where you can enter and store your credit card payment info, and then authorize payments when due, in the amounts you choose, yourself. These are out there in various formats. REALLY NICE! You maintain control of your card data! No one else ever sees it. This is what I have and if you chose to use it, your card data is encrypted on my side. I can't even see it!
Your agent shows you a booking confirmation from the travel supplier that includes the amount due. Likely there will be a date and amount due as deposit, and also a final payment date and amount. Usually you can cancel without penalty prior to the final payment date, and even get a refund of your deposit. While agents, including us, can be a bit reluctant to provide supplier invoices, you can always ASK. These supplier invoices are most often VERY confusing. And cause more questions than they answer. But an honest agent will provide a copy when asked. This supplier invoice will show you EXACTLY where your money has gone. Alternatively with a Cruise Vacation, you will have an account at the Cruise Line and you will SEE in YOUR account, using YOUR log-in. You will see the monies that have been paid, and for what.
Your agent sends you an invoice from their Agency, that includes a booking number that you can use to verify your booking at the travel supplier. It also has itemized amounts that are to be paid to those travel suppliers on certain dates prior to your travel. The suppliers and amounts itemized SHOULD always MATCH your credit card statement EXACTLY!
WHAT TO KNOW
The burden is on you to verify that once you have made a payment through an agent - that the payment shows up on your booking. You should have online access to any and all reservations and the ability to see money applied to them…
By using a Credit Card to pay for your travel arrangements you will always have a second chance to approve the charges and amounts before you pay for them with money from your bank account. If you see a discrepency contact your agent, and the credit card bank IMMEDIATELY.
Some agencies, display the Ethical Travel Agent Badge on their website!
This badge certifies that my agency has agreed to the Ethical Travel Agent standards of practice. When you work with this agent, you may rest assured you are working with someone who will treat your vacation with the highest standards of care.
Planning to Cruise? Reach out with your question. We read all of our replies ourselves!
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