Travel Agents FAQ

Answers to common questions about working with a travel agent.

Does a travel agent have any special responsibility when making a reservation for me?

If a travel agent fails to make a reservation for you -- or delays making a reservation for you -- and you lose money because of it, the agent is responsible to you if the failure to make the reservation or the delay was the agent's fault. For example, if the flight you want to take has seats available when you call your agent, but the agent delays making your reservation so that the flight sells out and you have to take a more expensive flight, the agent would be liable to you for the price difference.

When making a reservation, a travel agent must do his or her best to match the reservation to your specific requirements and limitations. If your travel agent makes the wrong reservation and you have a ticket on a plane destined for somewhere you don't want to go, the agent is probably responsible for paying the additional cost of getting you to your proper destination. If the agent books you into the wrong hotel or reserves the wrong type of rental car, the agent should compensate you for the difference between the value you would have received had the agent made the reservation properly and what you did receive as a result of the agent's mistake.

Is a travel agent responsible for confirming my reservation?

Generally, no. You must confirm your own reservations.

However, if your travel agent uses a tour operator or wholesaler who in turn makes your reservations, the agent probably has an obligation to verify your reservations with the various travel suppliers independently. Make sure to discuss this issue with your travel agent to find out which one of you is responsible for confirmation.

My travel agent charged me the wrong amount for my ticket. What should I do?

If you overpay because of a travel agent's mistake, the travel agent must reimburse you for the difference between the amount you paid and the actual fare. You must consider the proper fare at the time you reserved and paid for your ticket, not when a subsequent fare change was made.

If a travel agent charges you less than the actual cost of your ticket, you are not entitled to travel for less than the established fare. The travel supplier may require you to pay the additional amount due before you travel. Whether you can recover the difference from your travel agent depends on the circumstances. If you knew the correct price, agreed to it, and the travel agent simply hit the wrong key on the computer, you are not entitled to any compensation from the travel agent. On the other hand, if you didn't know the correct price and made your decision based on what the agent told you, then you probably can recoup the difference if your reliance on the travel agent's statement was reasonable. If you were told that a $999 flight was $799, your reliance would probably be reasonable. If, however, you were told that a $999 flight was $9.99, you'd be out of luck.

Is a travel agent responsible for researching airlines, hotels, and other suppliers?

Travel agents do not have to thoroughly investigate suppliers. In general, they are required only to stay current with reasonably available information, such as what is in trade journals and magazines. The most important types of information are often the supplier's reputation, track record, and financial condition. A travel agent must provide this type of information, as well as any specific experience that the travel agent has had with that supplier, if it would likely affect your decision to use the supplier.

If a travel agent books you on a flight that has already been canceled or in a hotel that has not been built, you have a fairly strong argument that the agent was negligent and failed to undertake a basic investigation. If, however, a tour operator suddenly goes out of business or a hotel closes between the time you make your reservation and the time you arrive, the agent's responsibility is less clear.

Must a travel agent warn me of any travel risks?

If a travel agent knows of a substantial risk to you, such as an airline that is bankrupt but continuing to fly, the travel agent has an obligation to warn you of that risk, with the following limitations:

  • A travel agent does not have to warn you about risks that are obvious and apparent, such as the risk that the car you rent from Rent-a-Wreck may not be in the best condition.
  • A travel agent is not required to be a fortune teller, particularly concerning factors out of the agent's control. An agent might be liable for promoting a "sun-and-fun" vacation in India during monsoon season, but the agent does not have a duty to warn you about all possible conditions -- such as unannounced strikes, political conditions, or bad weather -- that could affect your enjoyment of the journey.
  • A travel agent does not have to point out disclaimers or other legal elements of an agreement between you and the travel supplier, although a helpful travel agent might do so.

Do any professional associations regulate travel agents?

No. Travel agents have to meet very few formal requirements. Most travel agents do belong to one or more professional associations, however, and each association has a code of ethics that requires its members to remain knowledgeable of developments within the travel industry and to refrain from engaging in misleading sales practices. Membership in a professional association is voluntary, however, and, if an agent violates the code of ethics, you have little recourse within the association.

If you have a complaint about a travel agent, ask someone in the travel agency if the agent belongs to a professional association and, if so, which one. Then contact the association and ask if the agent is a member in good standing. In some cases, an association may be able to help you if you have a complaint against one of their members. For example, the American Society of Travel Agents (www.asta.org) has a mediation program to help resolve disputes between travel agents and their clients.

Does a travel agent work for me or for the travel industry? How are travel agents paid?

A travel agent is often most loyal not to you, but to a travel supplier, such as an airline or tour operator. This is because the travel supplier and the travel agent have an ongoing relationship -- the agent represents the supplier and is compensated for providing business to the supplier.

You may feel that a travel agent should be your agent and should look out for your best interests, rather than the interests of travel suppliers. A good agent will take on this role, knowing that good customer service will lead to repeat business. In addition, the law is changing in this area, and sometimes a travel agent may be considered your agent as well. In most cases, however, the travel agent will owe you the normal duty owed by a salesperson to a customer, but no more.

When a travel agent issues a ticket or makes other travel arrangements for you, the agent sometimes receives a commission from some travel suppliers such as a tour group or hotel. However, airlines pay virtually no commission these days.

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