Laina Christine Todd
Avoya Travel / American Express, Fort Lauderdale
Business Profile: Home-based; 100% leisure; 10 years’ agent experience
When did you first start charging fees and why?
Todd: I began with the last agency that I was affiliated with because that was their policy and procedure for any non-commissionable item. It just made sense, so I’ve carried that on into my own business.
For what services do you charge fees?
Todd: I charge for all non-commissionable items; I have a large FIT business, so it’s necessary. I charge by component. I work my air and ticketing fees one way and my accommodation fees a separate way. My ticketing fees are flat, and my accommodation fees are a percentage. I charge for air, ferries, and I typically add-on for rail, because even though rail does pay commission, it’s small.
The commissions when I’m booking directly with a vendor [cruise, escorted tour] are definitely sufficient. I do charge a fee when a cruise is involved if I have a group; I will build in my own cancellation fee, because there is a lot of work and detail involved with a group. I’m not trying to be greedy. I’m just trying to get compensated for the work and assistance I provide.
What percentage of revenue comes from fees now?
Todd: It’s not a small number, but it is definitely a small percentage. I would prefer to get paid by the vendor. It’s more comfortable for the client to not have to pay a fee. If I have the option to book with a vendor, where I’m going to get paid direct, I would choose that every time. But when you’re doing FITs you just don’t have that option a lot.
Do you ever waive your fees?
Todd: I will waive a fee on air if it is booked in conjunction with a cruise or in conjunction with an extended hotel stay. Also, with repeat clients, which are almost 100% of my business, if they have many components involved in their FIT, I’ll waive one here or there, for loyalty purposes.
Do you ever encounter objections to fees from new or existing clients?
Todd: I don’t think it’s proper to charge a fee to book a cruise or a package, because people have the opportunity to book those online themselves; they don’t want to pay a fee for that. But if it’s something complex, I would say 99.5% of the time I do not have any objections. Clients doing complex trips are more than willing to pay a fee to know they have a professional handling this for them.
For those [who do object], I may meet them in the middle, the first time, to get them used to the idea and [so they can] see that it is a valued service. I don’t have any clients that repetitively try to knock fees down; they wouldn’t be my clients. I’m always upfront. I let them know right at the start line if the research is going to involve a fee and give them the option to do it on their own.
What is the most difficult thing for you in charging fees?
Todd: It came naturally, because I believe the fees are well-earned and justifiable. When I am charging fees, I’m charging for unique, time-consuming work, and it’s well-earned income. I think because I’m so comfortable charging the fees that it comes off as very natural to the client and as something worth doing. It’s something that agents should not be afraid to implement if they provide a service that they’re not getting compensated for by the vendor.
When did you last raise your fees?
Todd: I don’t think I ever have, because I think the fees are reasonable; they don’t need to be raised. I charge $25 for domestic air, $50 for international air, and $25 for tickets, like ferry, train or show tickets. Those fees are per reservation, not per person, so if they’re using one credit card, that’s a one-time charge. If they’re using two credit cards, then it’s times two, and on and on.
On the accommodation, it’s a flat 10%. I go by the lowest standard commission; with 10%, I feel I’m getting compensated. I think it’s fair and it keeps my referrals and my people coming back.
How has assessing service fees impacted your business?
Todd: It’s a reaffirmation that I’m good at what I do. If people are willing to pay that fee and pay for my service, it’s reassuring to have that kind of confidence in what you do coming from your clients. It lets you know that you’re good at what you do; otherwise people sure are not going to pay extra for your service.
Does an agent’s geographic location or market niche determine whether s/he is able to assess fees?
Todd: Without a doubt the type of clientele has a lot to do with whether you can charge a fee. Most of my clientele are fairly high-end. There’s no question that clients that have a higher household income and are more worldly and well-traveled are going to be way more willing and cooperative in paying fees than somebody who’s not. Somebody who’s booking their first cruise I wouldn’t even try. I’d just tell them I charge a fee if they want to do some sort of add-on that was not commissionable, and I’d be willing to bet you that they’d just book it on their own.
What advice do you have for agents about introducing fees?
Todd: I would tell them definitely to go for it. Your time and expertise are valuable and clients will pay for that.