Carla S. Lynn, MCC, CTC
Horizons Unlimited Travel, Arlington, Texas
Business Profile: Home-based agency; seven ICs; business mix: 95% leisure; years in business: 11 as owner of agency; TRAVELSAVERS.
When did you first start charging fees and why?
Lynn: We started charging certain fees when I bought the agency in 2000. I was of the opinion that we were professionals and we needed to charge for our service. It just made sense to me.
For what services do you charge set fees?
Lynn: We charge set fees for doing airlines tickets, hotel reservations, car rentals and concierge type services (dinners, shows, etc.). I also charge hourly research fees, especially if I’m doing a custom trip.
What percentage of your revenue comes from fees now?
Lynn: Probably about 25%. I would like to see that lowered, because our main focus is booking tours, tour packages and cruises. If I never had to open Worldspan and book an air-only itinerary that would please me no end.
Do you ever waive your fees?
Lynn: If it’s a student group, I’ll reduce it when it’s just airline tickets. If I’m doing something for a charity that I’ve been involved in, I typically will not charge the fee or I will donate the fee. There are certain clients that I will reduce my hourly fee for, like a honeymoon couple.
Do you ever encounter objections to fees from new or existing clients?
Lynn: No. I just explain to them that ‘I don’t work for free, do you? Don’t you like to get paid for the work you do?’ They understand, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re willing to pay it. Only if they’re shoppers do they walk away.
I usually start by telling them that my usual fee is $250 an hour, and then when they balk at that and say, ‘As a travel agent, how can you do that?’ I say, ‘It’s very simple. I’m a master cruise counselor (MCC). I’m a certified travel counselor (CTC), and I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration and an MBA. I’m a professional.’
What is, or has been, the most difficult thing for you in charging fees?
Lynn: The technical aspect has been most the difficult, so deciding how to charge it – by means of merchant services or going through ARC’s Agent’s Choice. We now do all of our charging through Agent’s Choice and that seems to be working great.
Also, my agents: It’s been a long road with some. I still have one who charges no fees, but the bulk of her business is cruises, so building in hotel or air along with a cruise is just part of the package in her mind. I have another agent who I have worked with, on and off, for going on 30 years. She’s old school, but she is starting to finally understand the value of the time she spends with clients. She hasn’t quite reached the point where she’s charging upfront for research, but she’s getting there.
When did you last raise your fees?
Lynn: The only thing we have changed is if we do a custom or involved itinerary – we have raised those fees.
How has assessing service fees impacted your business?
Lynn: I think charging fees deters the shopper. Therefore we have a better chance of closing the majority of the calls that we actually work on.
Does an agent's geographic location or market niche determine whether s/he will be able to assess fees?
Lynn: I don’t think so. The one agent who mainly focuses on cruises and group cruises, I don’t think she quite grasps that she should be charging a fee for those add-ons. She could certainly be making more money. Yet she lives in a small town, so she thinks, ‘If I charge those fees, they’ll go elsewhere.’ But I don’t agree.
What advice do you have for agents about introducing fees?
Lynn: Start slowly and educate your clients as to why you’re charging them what you’re charging. The message you’re trying to send is, ‘I’m a professional; I don’t work for free, and I’m doing this to earn my living.’