How does a travel agent get paid?
I have never used a travel agent before, and I was wondering if there is a fee I would have to pay them or if the airlines/hotels they refer pay their salaries? If there is a fee, how much should I expect to pay?
Travel agencies (and independent travel agents) charge a transaction fee for their services and have done so for well over a decade. You will not find a (legitamate) travel agent that does not charge a fee for their services. Period. You are paying for their expertise in this field, just like you would pay a doctor, lawyer, or dentist for their experience and expertise in their fields. This is also because because the airlines (and hotel chains and car rental firms to a extent, as well) no longer pay commissions to travel agencies, not even online ones like Priceline or Travelocity.
Travel agencies are mostly small businesses, so these fees are most of what keeps them open. In most agencies, agents are paid a yearly salary like most jobs, though there are a few (mainly leisure-only) agents who still earn a commission based on their sales, but that is rare today.
Anyway, these fees can vary by agency, the size of the agencies and/or location (city versus suburbs, big city versus out in the country). From my experience, a reasonable transaction fee is $35-45 per domestic airline ticket and $50-65 for each international airline ticket, plus the cost of ticket itself. However, I have seen some corporate agencies that charge closer to $100 per transaction. If changes are needed, you would pay a fee, plus any transaction fees that the airline requires (which can be a lot, unfortunately, but blame the airlines, not the agent).
If you need (domestic) hotels and/or car rental and/or a Amtrak train ticket as well, that may be included in the above costs, or maybe not. If you are booking something more complicated (like a vacation package to Disney or a cruise), they will charge you a flat fee, the cost of which may vary depending on the complexity of such and what they are booking for you.
A good travel agent will explain all their fees up front and what they are for. You will not easily find that on the Internet, I guarantee you that! Look for an experienced agent who gives superior customer service. Remember, your travel agent is your advocate if problems occur between you and the airline or tour company during or before your travel. Listen to the agent’s advice and tips and follow them (you are paying for it!). Sometimes, they may not be able to do anything, but they will be honest and will tell you why. Try that with a hotel or a airline!