I spent a total of 2 years working as a travel agent.
When I applied for the role, I envisioned my dream job. Booking trips for customers while researching my own at the same time, with the added perk of familiarisation trips and discounted travel? What could be better!
I got the job and excitedly jumped into my new role, but it didn’t take long for me to realise that working as a travel agent isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Apparently most new recruits quit in their first 6 months, and if you make it past there you’re doing better than the majority. The job brings out both the best and the worst in people and it takes a tough cookie to handle all the ups and downs.
Here’s my experience of working a travel agent, and why the job isn’t as glamorous as it sounds.
The best bits
Visiting Xian, China in 2010
Perks of the job
I got two international trips as part of my job, one familiarisation trip to Bali for 4 days, and another to China through a tour company for 10 days (though this one cost $1000 AUD in participation fees and visas).
I also was able to discount my own travel bookings by taking off the commission we’d normally get and by taking advantage of industry discounts, so I’d end up saving 10-20% on my own bookings. Extremely cheap travel? Yes, please!
Super amazing customers
People often got really excited about their trip. I had someone come in who’d been saving up for ages to go to Africa, and I eventually managed to fit the trip in her limited budget. When I called to tell her the tickets were ready, she got super excited and actually leaned over the desk to hug me. You can’t tell me that wouldn’t make you feel good.
Learning some great skills
One thing I’m glad I got out of my time as a travel agent is some very marketable skills. I learnt a lot about sales, customer service, and marketing. These have come in handy for basically everything I’ve done since then, including going for job interviews, starting my own Etsy business, and even blogging.
The worst of it
Not as many perks as you think
Aside from flying to Melbourne twice a year for conferences, I got a grand total of 2 international trips in my 2 year career, which is not all that many, really. Also, these trips sometimes consist of a lot of hotel inspections so you don’t get a lot of free time to explore, it’s not all fun and games.
I actually won a third trip which would have taken me to Dubai for 4 days, but I was denied it because my store was understaffed. Why I had to suffer for that, I’m not sure. This was my breaking point and within a month I’d walked out the door.
Pressure to make commission
The pressure to make commission in this job was phenomenal. Every agency does it differently but here’s the way it worked in my store.
Both myself and the store made money from the commission I made, so I was given a target to hit each month. If it looked like I wasn’t going to make it, I was pulled aside to discuss ways of making more money. If I didn’t make it, my target might have gone up even more for the following month.
Sales is definitely one of the most stressful industries. On top of all this pressure, I was dealing with financial difficulties through a break up with my ex partner. I’ll admit, this was not one of the high points of my life. I suffered from anxiety and ended up seeing multiple professionals to help me deal with it.
Super shitty customers
Ever had someone try to blame their own mistake on you? I once had a middle-aged couple sign a document with their flight details before they booked their international flight, then come back in the next day to tell me I hadn’t booked them on the flight that their daughter was on and should therefore pay for the change fee. Umm, how was I supposed to know what flight your daughter was on? You didn’t even mention that you wanted to be on the same flight, fools!
Sadly, this kind of thing sadly happens fairly often, and in the travel agent industry this can mean losing your hard earned commission even if it’s not your fault.
Stuff goes wrong, all the time
Volcano eruptions, political unrest (such as this time when I visited Kiev), and even bad weather will cause havoc for travel agents as well as travellers. Stranded passengers will rely on their agents to change all their bookings when things go wrong and that can take a lot of time (which you’re therefore not earning commission from making new bookings).
Long working hours
My working week would have been 44-45 hours, which is about 7-8 hours longer than the average working week in Australia. We started early and finished late (sometimes really late, depending on how much work we had to get done).
As a travel agent you can’t just leave things to do for the next day. If you don’t make bookings now, the price might go up and then where will the price difference come from? Yep, your commission.
You spend all your money on travel
I know this sounds like a good thing, but if you want to save for a house, or a car, or basically anything other than travel, forget it. You see hundreds of good deals on travel every single day, and when a special comes out for somewhere you’ve been thinking about going, you’re bound to book it. Working as a travel agent gets you so immersed in travel deals that there’s no space left in your head for anything else.
I’m glad I don’t work as a travel agent anymore.
In the end, the stress of the job made my quality of life far worse than the perks made it better. I imagine flight attendants probably have similar issues – you get to travel to exotic places for cheap, but you have to deal with a lot of crap on the way.
Nowadays when I need to book flights I’ll head online and do it myself, though my flights occasionally involve flying into one airport and out of another so I still use a travel agent for difficult itineraries.
I’m a much happier, healthier, and smarter person now. I can look back at my time as a travel agent and appreciate that I learnt some great skills and a lot about myself as well. It wasn’t a bad job, but if you’re thinking about heading down that path you should know what to expect and be able to handle it. If you can do that, kudos to you.
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