Forget the computer. Ester Milchan books travel the old-fashioned way: By phone. And yet, she is paid largely the same was as large travel agents such as Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity.
"It's a 10- to 12-percent commission that we get," she said.
Rarely – if ever – do consumers see the commissions travel agents earn. The transaction largely takes place in the background.
Still, it's a fascinating realm, where numbers diverge and some calculations simply do not add up. Went we delved in we found a wide array of commissions in the travel world.
U.S. air carriers have largely ditched commissions. Some charge booking fees for the convenience. Others treat airline bookings as zero-gain bait in hopes of booking your hotel of rental car.
On websites intended for agents only, hotel chains such as Hilton and Hyatt reveal they pay a 10-percent kickback for rooms they book. Select prepaid and government rates are exempt for the commission.
Every agency we checked -- Hertz, National, Avis, and Budget -- all offer agents a five-percent commission on the base rate.
However, Consumerist.com warns workers at the rental car counter might be on the take for much more. Perhaps 15 percent of upgrade charges, 12 percent of insurance add-ons, and four percent of pre-paid fuel.
Generally speaking, the more cabins an agent books, the more they make. Rates start out round 10 percent and tend to top out around 16 percent. Agent must sometimes book as many as 1,000 cabins a year to reach the 16 percent mark.
Many travel companies are eager to have customers book directly with them. Sure, it might be convenient to eliminate the middleman, but we wondered why rates are 10 to 16 percent lower when you're booking direct.
We received seven price quotes for a seven-night Carnival cruise from Miami. An interior cabin was $349 across the board – even directly from Carnival (where it's not paying a commission).
We asked Carnival about its commission structure but never received a response.
Milchan had a warning about those who are eager to cut out a travel agent.
"Perhaps they are not getting the best deal possible," she said.
Forget the price. In our query, prices were equal. But every travel agent we tried offered a perk, such as upgrades or onboard spending money.
"Whenever someone books a cruise of seven nights or longer, I give them a $25 credit," Milchan said.
The quote from Carnival included zero perks.
We ran searches with Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity, Holland America, and Norwegian Cruise Line and found similar results.
"This is where it's at," Milchan added.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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