Like most travel agents, I get a lot of questions about the job, everything from how to become an agent to how we get paid, so I thought I would address the most common ones here.
How do travel agents get paid?
It depends on the agency, but most Disney travel agents are paid by Disney, after the client travels. We work on a commission, which means that we get a percentage of the cost of your trip before taxes and fees. This also means that if a client cancels, the travel agent isn't paid unless that agency imposes a cancellation fee.
Why does Disney do this? Well, when you call Disney directly, you're probably talking to an agent who works on incentives based on sales in addition to their base pay--in other words, they're working on a commission too, no matter how you slice it. The difference between booking with a Disney agent directly and booking with a Disney travel agent from an outside company is that you'll get the same agent every time and that agent has an incentive to make you happy, such as calling you when a discount comes out. Why? They want you to come back and send your friends!
Incidentally, our commissions don't effect the price of your vacation. In other words, it's not secretly built into your costs. You'll get the same price booking through us, or a Disney cast member on the phone, or online at the Disney website.
My agency charges fees. Is this legitimate?
It's legitimate, but you shouldn't pay it. Ever. There's no reason for any travel agency to charge you fees since they're paid by the vendor. Some agencies charge cancellation fees so that their agents don't walk away from a cancelled booking without some compensation and I can see the argument behind doing so, but I personally would not pay those fees.
Additionally, be wary of people who bill themselves as Disney vacation planners but who are not associated with an agency or graduates of Disney's College of Knowledge. These people charge a fee for booking (around $50) and an additional fee for planning your vacation. This is a service that most Disney travel agencies provide for free, so why pay for it? Further, these people are rarely insured, so if something goes wrong, you have little or no recourse. If you want help planning your vacation but don't want to work with a travel agent, pay $18 and buy an Unofficial Guide, hang around on Disboards, and do it yourself. I'm not trying to hurt anyone's business, but these "planners" charge uncessary fees and make it harder for us to do our job.
What will an agent do for me?
It's standard practice for agencies that primarily book Disney (that is, a Disney travel agency as opposed to a regular travel agency like AAA) to provide itineraries, make dining and Magical Express reservations, and offer detailed travel advice. Travel agencies that are centered around Disney tend to be staffed by agents who visit Disney a lot, so they know all the tips and tricks that a regular travel agent doesn't know. They also tend to enjoy talking about Disney, so you shouldn't feel bad about asking for help.
One of the most important things a Disney travel agent will do for you is save you money. They do this by keeping up with discounts and applying them as they come out, but if you're a Disney savvy traveler, you know that you can also do this yourself. It just depends on if you have the time. A lot of guests want to do the work--it makes the trip feel more real and planning can be half the fun. And for those people, you probably don't need to book with an agent. But if you like help and someone to bounce ideas off of, a travel agent can be an asset.
How do I become a Disney travel agent?
The first step is to visit Disney a lot and know the product. There are plenty of agencies that will hire you if you know Disney World and Disneyland; the key is really finding one that is reputable, fair and a good fit for your personality. It's standard practice to pay a small signing fee (this is often refundable once you sell a certain amount). Some agencies offer more support than others. This can range from basic marketing help to mailing documents to clients. My agency has a lot of agent interaction but some agents work entirely alone and may never speak to their fellow agents and only rarely to the agency owner. Agencies may also send you client referrals, but even those agencies will expect you to bring in the bulk of your own clients. In return for their support, they'll take anywhere from 40 to 20 percent of your commission, so you better like them!
On a personal note, I didn't want to work for an agency that expected its agents to do a "hard sell" with clients and I wanted to be able to set how much I wanted to sell rather than have a quota, which I thought might be difficult with small children. I also wanted to be able to continue blogging and writing about what I thought was important, even if it wasn't always flattering to the Mouse. This is what I mean about finding an agency that's a good fit for you. I probably just lucked out, but I know some agents haven't been as lucky, so check out your potential agency online to see how you'll mesh with them.
Do travel agents have any pull that I don't have?
Honestly, no. While we can sometimes pull some strings in certain areas or call on favors from friends (and most TAs have a lot of contacts at Disney), we can't get you into a fully-booked Le Cellier, get you upgraded to a Savanna view for free, or find deals that aren't out there.
Do you get to travel for free?
Yes and no. Disney offers amazing training programs and I'd be lying if I told you they weren't AWESOME! We can also get some pretty great room discounts, but for the most part, we're paying the same price you are.
If you have any questions you want answered privately, please feel free to email me at ChrisW@PixieVacations.com. Sorry, I can't tell any company secrets or help you get a job, but if you have some general questions about the TA business or how we operate that I haven't addressed here, feel free to write.