The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) lashed out this week at a website that published an article claiming travel agents charge extra on purpose and make money when clients die.
Entitled "This Is the No. 1 Secret to Cheap Travel That Your Travel Agent Won’t Tell You,” the article offered up 16 “tips,” most of which attempted to paint agents in a bad light.
“If the idea of planning a holiday trip overwhelms you, perhaps you should consider using a travel agent. Before you do, however, read about the secrets travel agents don’t want you to know, and make sure you learn the No. 1 — on Page 5 — things they keep hidden from customers,” wrote author Barri Segal.
The Cheat Sheet publishes a variety of gossipy and provocative articles, including one today entitled “Special Hair Cuts and More Crazy Rules Kim Jong Un Makes North Koreans Follow.” Much of the publication’s editorial copy are “stories” like the travel agent article, what the trade calls “listicles” – listings of tips or other statements about something topical.
In a press release, ASTA claimed that the publication plagiarized a 2013 Women’s Day article, and lifted quotes from an eight-year-old Daily Telegraph article from Australia.
The article and response from the agency community “presents an opportunity to educate journalists and consumers about travel agents' value,” ASTA said in its statement, “and responding to the inaccuracies in the CheatSheet.com article will help drive home the message that agents provide an invaluable service to the consumer: helping us all see the world.”
ASTA offered a point-by-point response to each of the article’s claims, like these:
1. Article says: They can’t book (or price) all airline carriers.
ASTA responds: “This portion of the article is so fraught with errors; it is hard to know where to start. Any travel agent that still sells air travel (not all do, just like not all retailers sell every brand of anything) can, using technologies available to all of them, sell any airline’s services, including Southwest. This can be done as a stand-alone ticket for air travel or as a package with multiple components. Good luck trying to figure out comparative package values without the aid of an expert.”
2. Article says: They make the most money if someone dies.
ASTA responds: “This assertion is as false as it is insulting. Suggesting that a travel agent would charge a grieving customer more for an emergency trip is a blanket false statement. Many travel agents arrange travel for their clients with NO FEE at all!
"Since base commissions were abolished more than a decade ago, agents generally charge fees for booking air tickets and have a legal, ethical and practical responsibility to protect their clients’ interests even above their own. An agent’s focus on ‘duty of care’ – helping safeguard you from harm and keeping you and those important to you informed when things go wrong – is priceless. What do you do if find yourself in the midst of a horrific storm (or worse)? Who is there to rebook your flights, cancel or rebook your hotel reservations, provide you with new options smartly and expeditiously? Your travel advisor. Try doing that on your own.”
3. Article says: They make major commissions.
ASTA responds: “Many states hold agents to a ‘fiduciary’ standard – that is, they must put the clients’ interests ahead of their own and can be sued if they don’t. As a piece of factual information, the profit margins of many items bought via retail differ, so that retailers of all kinds might, when viewed superficially, have incentives to huckster the higher margin items, but doing that is a disservice to the customer who has many choices and, in the end, will cost the retailer his business. Travel agents are no different. Customer interest must, and does, come first.”
4. Article says: Charging you extra is a game for them.
ASTA responds: “We are again left with sweeping statements based on no tangible evidence. Agents make their money in different ways. They are a diverse group, many with specialties and niche expertise that delivers very high value to their clients who reward the agents accordingly.”
5. Article says: They bait you with cheap vacations.
ASTA responds: “A travel agent who lies about the cost of a vacation isn’t doing their business any favor. Does the writer of this piece really believe that agents make this stuff up so they can be caught in the act within weeks or months of giving bad advice? ASTA estimates that over 40 percent of travel agents today are home-based. This doesn’t give travel agents much room to do a bait and switch.”
6. Article says: Group bookings can cost more.
ASTA responds: “Generally speaking, group bookings do not cost you more going through a travel agent. If anything, it costs you less. A good travel advisor will work with the entire group to ensure that everyone is staying on budget and that group activities are suitable for everyone.”
7. Article says: They might take advantage of you if you’re a loyal customer.
ASTA responds: As for how agents make their money, we are again left with sweeping statements based on no tangible facts. Agents make their money in different ways. They are a diverse group, many with specialties and niche expertise that deliver very high value to their clients who reward the agents accordingly.”