Should I fire my travel agent?


Question: My fiancée and I are planning our destination wedding in Jamaica this summer and are using a travel agent. We’re also using the travel agent for our honeymoon at a different resort on the island. We will be in Jamaica for two weeks. There are about 40 people booked at this time, with only a couple more to book. She has been going through Apple Vacations to help book the flights and hotels.

Our problems began back at the beginning of this year. Our agent had a couple of relatives pass away. We have tried to call and email the agent several times with little or no response. We even went to her house (she works from home) and talked with her in person, voicing our concern of the lack of communication.

We also have asked her, on a couple of occasions, to charge part of our stay to our credit card, she has not done this yet. We would like to space out the charges so we don’t get hit with it all at once.

We have also requested that we be included on correspondence with our guests so we know who has booked and who has not. The lack of communication from her is very frustrating.

What can we do? How would we go about firing her? — Brian Durbin, Terre Haute, Ind.

Answer: I’m sorry to hear things aren’t working out with your travel agent. A honeymoon is probably one of the most important vacations of your life, so you want everything to be perfect. That’s why you use a travel agent to make arrangements.

For years, I’ve recommended using a competent travel agent for a honeymoon. But that doesn’t mean every agent will do a good job. In your case, unfortunately, the agent appears to have had a series of personal problems that sidetracked her from doing her job. That can happen.

You did the right thing by bringing your concerns to the agent first. She should have realized that she couldn’t provide the level of service you needed for a destination wedding and honeymoon, and offered to transfer your reservation to a colleague. But that didn’t happen.

Your next step would have been to appeal to Apple Vacations. It could have also transferred your reservation either to another agent or turned it into a direct booking, which doesn’t use an agent.

I asked Apple about your reservations. It reviewed your file and contacted the agent on your behalf. Your agent has since then “stepped up” according to Apple Vacations and is taking care of your reservation – an assessment with which you agree.

Enjoy your honeymoon.

Should Brian Durbin have fired his travel agent?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Boomer Traveler

    Unless the OP has left out some detail, this seems to be a classic communication issue. They state that their concerns were made known, but did they say something to her (the agent) like:

    “We know that you are in a difficult time now, so we understand if you’re not firing on all cylinders. Nonetheless, we need to have our requests fulfilled in order for our plans to succeed, so if you’re not up to the task we will have to switch to another agent. We’d rather not, so please tell us if you’ll be able to fulfill our requests.” That’s a sensitive way of approaching a delicate matter.

    Perhaps they did that in some form, but the fact that she (the agent) stepped up once they contacted Apple Vacations is a strong indicator to me that they were unclear with her about the potential consequences.

    I know first hand how tough it is to approach someone in grief about their performance, but it is necessary and can be done politely and firmly.

  • TonyA_says

    I wonder what she meant by hiring an agent. Did she pay an agent a fee to do some wedding planning work? Or did the agent only make a small commission from Apple? It is possible that the OP was expecting too much from an unpaid agent. If you understand how little money an agent makes, maybe you will understand why this is happening. Dollars and expectations are possibly mismatched.

  • Steve Cousino

    I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, during the initial consultation, the travel agent and the clients should have laid down expectations of communication between them – especially with something as “big” as a destination wedding. Constant communication is key. I respond to all my client communications within a 24-hour period, even if it means I stay up late into the night or i get up super early to do so. That isn’t to say that sometimes, stuff happens, and I fail at that, but it’s a strong daily goal.

    I’m actually surprised that the clients in this instance took as many steps to continue working with their agent as they did – she must really be something. However, if they took the effort to visit her at her home office, I’m surprised that step wasn’t enough to reset the agent on the tracks. Agents should always strive to provide the absolute best in service on all fronts, and failing to respond especially after multiple attempts clearly shows they are not able, or willing, to provide that service for these clients.

    Without knowing the agent’s side of the situation, it’s hard for me to REALLY say one way or the other.

    Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA |

  • John Frenaye

    As an agent, I say..YOU’RE FIRED! OK so to get the communication back on track it took phone calls, presumably email, and finally Chris and Apple. Unacceptable.

    The relationship is already strained and the next little miss will be magnified. IT is like not reporting an incident at a resort AT THE TIME. It will just fester and make you miserable unless it is resolved.

    I think she should have looked around and found a competent communicative agent and then requested Apple to transfer the booking. Even if it meant the new agent charged a fee for taking on the booking–they all woudl have felt better.

  • Charles Owen

    Is it normal that a travel agent will book vacations through Apple Vacations, which is, in turn, an online travel agent, particularly for a destination wedding? We’re talking at least 20 rooms here and the agent didn’t negotiate with the resort directly? Why do you need a travel agent just to enter stuff into a web page you could use yourself? What is the agent doing other than passing stuff on to Apple?

  • mbods

    Yes…too little too late but it may be more trouble at this point then it’s worth.

  • AlanaM

    It sounds like she needs a wedding coordinator….the booking made by the agent is paid on commission. I appreciate excellent customer service, but creating open communication between their family/friends and who has booked between the – sounds like she should create a group of attendees/invitees to leave open communication on Facebook if she wants to know the details of her wedding attendees. I agree with TonyA in that the agent makes only a small commission from Apple and furthermore, agents provide a great deal of service – for those that handle the luxury market and perhaps a niche market like “weddingmoons” – service charges should apply if they require much more service and hand-holding than a simple reservation with various payment/cc split payment, etc… As important as planning a wedding and your honeymoon is – they should have paid for this service.

  • bodega3

    In any business where you are working on behalf of a client, communication is key. But it goes both ways. We aren’t hearing the TA’s side and in our business, there are lots of stories of overcontroling wedding couples that just drain a TA’s time. Hopefully the call to the TA from Apple opens up the communication between the two parties and that the wedding and honeymoon go off without a hitch!

    As for the communication between guests, the wedding couple and the TA, that already gives a picture of what the TA is dealing with in a controling client. Any correspondence I get is between me and the sender. I will notify the other party as warrented, with the senders permission. It isn’t automatic.

  • bodega3

    We use the TO that we feel is best suited for the client and for our dealings with them to make their event as wonderful and glitch free as possible. If you are a controlling person, by all means, do it yourself. Any agent would appreciate not dealing with you.

  • SusieRuby

    I feel the whole story needs to be represented to make an educated decision. I am an agent and always am leary when someone comes to me saying “I am so unhappy with my agent” as there can be many reasons. I would think that Chris Elliott should have also represented the agent side of this story

  • Christopher Elliott

    Actually, my job is to fix the problem. Fortunately, with Apple’s help, we did.

  • casa mariposa panama

    I am not a travel agent, though I am in the hospitality business. From the information Chris provided, it seems to me the problems began when the agent encountered some personal issues, which no doubt were a huge personal distraction. Agents (and hoteliers) are people too, with real problems of their own, and these things can happen. That said, it seems to me that the agent should have had the intestinal fortitude to make a tough decision: either continue to work diligently with this client or step aside and refer the client to another competent agent while they sort out their personal issues. It seems to me that wedding/honeymoon planning is tough enough at the best of times, especially an offshore ceremony/honeymoon, and there are many moving parts that can cause problems. New brides are also nearly-psychotic about all the details ( as is normal I would think ), and they wish to be sure everything is just perfect for their big day. With this in mind, I am sure any competent travel agent realizes that timely, effective communication with the client is of the utmost importance throughout the entire process. And while there may be a slim chance that this bride-to-be may have been a little over-the-top on the details, it is still (in my humble opinion) the agent’s responsibility to recognize this potential aspect of this kind of client. If the agent was not 100% sure that they could deliver what the client needed, he/she had the responsibility to step aside in favor of another agent who could better serve the needs of this client.

  • MeanMeosh

    Sorry, Tony, and maybe I’m misinterpreting what you’re saying, but that doesn’t cut it. “I’m not getting paid enough” should never be an excuse for intentionally providing poor service, if that indeed is what happened here. If this is a case where the OP was trying to fish additional services out of her TA without paying for them, then the TA should have politely but firmly responded that the services she’s requesting are out-of-scope, and made it clear that there would be additional charges for the extra services.

    The fact of the matter is, the average, inexperienced traveler really has no idea what you do and don’t get paid for, or what Apple Vacations pays you as a commission, and a reasonable person should have no problem paying extra once that’s explained to them. If the OP was an unreasonable person and refused to pay, then the TA would have been well within her rights to tell the OP that she could not continue working with her or providing the additional services that she was requesting. But just choosing to provide poor service shouldn’t be acceptable under any circumstance.

  • TonyA_says

    MM, I am just talking reality here. There is only a certain amount of work an agent will do to BOOK tickets, rooms, etc. on a normal COMMISSION BASIS.
    If you want more than BOOKING services, such as wedding travel planning, then you need to pay for PLANNING services, because the TA is doing more than just booking.
    That said, I think the OP was accustomed to using the TA for simple vacations in the past and decided to use the TA again for helping travel planning for the grand event. What we do not know is whether she paid the agent a fee to do MORE WORK.

    Added: Yes there was too little communication on the part of the TA. Maybe she should have told the OP that she needed more pay to handle the extra coordination work. Or maybe she had no time to handle more than just an ordinary booking since she was dealing with personal issues. Sometimes people are too shy to tell others what they really believe so it causes other kinds of problems like this.

  • TonyA_says

    Dear Steve Cousino,

    I am not a moderator but I feel I need to remind you about the recent rules Chris posted regarding HIS site:

    No free ads. Comments that contain spam, advertisements, business/self promotional content, campaigns, recruitments, or signature links are not allowed.

  • TonyA_says

    Because you need to differentiate BOOKING from TRAVEL PLANNING (especially a wedding with a lot of independent guests). It is very easy to book. But COORDINATION is a PITA.

  • Evaristo

    Whatever you would expect from a real estate agent is what you should expect from 95% of travel agents; a lot of enthusiasm up front slowly fading to a modicum of attention when the commissions are made or locked in for the future. As is true with insurance agents, real estate people and attorneys, the point is in acquiring new money, not follow up service, which is less profitable.

    If you think I’m being cynical and you”ve used agents for years, ask yourself this: how much are they willing to do to help you with flights now that there are no commissions to be made?

  • Evaristo

    Yes, imagine asking her to do anything as a courtesy in exchange for increased volume of business and future goodwill!! How un American.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    sounds like you want more than travel agent can do or you’re a drama queen.
    There are many things agents don’t get paid for these days & you may be one of those people, who says I can get that for same price online (after agents done all the work finding it for you).
    If you want somehting done for you, learn to pay for it or do it yourself !!!

  • TonyA_says

    Yup. Here is the webpage for Wedding DIY

  • adventurebaby

    Just a note to all the commenters that the OP is the groom to be, not the bridezilla that so many are assuming. Guys can stress over weddings too. :-)

  • Daddydo

    I would have gone to the owner of the agency that this outside agent is working under. Sometimes there are problems, but, they should be fixed within the week. The owner could then re-assign a new and qualified agent.

  • Tigger57

    As an agent I am glad this has all worked out for both parties. But if Apple had not been able to get the agent to start moving, I think firing her is the only choice. This is a large destination wedding that needs an agent that is right on top of it or things can go terribly wrong. Plus, the importance of making sure a clients credit card is charged when they ask you to do it, is crucial. One never knows what credit card incentives they may have and missing an expiration date on an incentive could result in a loss of money, miles etc.

  • Lindabator

    I work as a travel agent, and would have felt the clients had been MORE than justified in “firing” me if I had failed them so badly. If you cannot “feel” out the agent before you begin planning, find out what options you have in case of emergencies like this – and make the choice you feel most comfortable with.

  • Lindabator

    I agree – I work JUST as hard for a client on a 3 day cruise (make DIDDLY) as on their $25K European trip – which is why they are comfortable enough to BOOK that $25K trip with me – but I think Tony is questioning whether they were needing a coordinator to work on wedding planning, or whether they were merely booking the guests on their portions of the trip. I know I would be charging a fee for coordination above and beyond the travel packages themselves, especially if I was expected to coordinate all communications with the couple, their guests and the vacation resort. This is far more time consuming, and usually not part of the package planning cost.

  • Lindabator

    And when does the courtesy become an imposition? Don’t forget, in NO other business would you be expected to offer free services above and beyond the scope of the job.

  • Lindabator

    Excellent point! And why I agree with Tony that this may have moved from travel planning to wedding coordinator services – which indeed cost far more. Just think both parties should have it CLEARLY contracted as to what both sides will be getting.

  • Lindabator

    You obviously don’t know JUST how much we do – ask the airlines – after 9/11 THEY were no help to their passengers, and we stepped in even when they WEREN’T our bookings/clients, to aid those travellers (this was clearly shown in the Senate investigation into those dark days). And that is still the same – I don’t accept a shrug and a 2 day later option – I go to bat for my clients, which is why they come back.

  • Lindabator

    They are a travel provider, NOT an online travel agent – they are one of the multitude of wholesalers we travel agents use all the time. And its not a matter of “just entering something into a web page” We actually work with a coordinator at Apple Vacations to facilitate the wedding party, ensure the party gets its complimentary amenities, help coordinate the wedding information, etc.

  • Lindabator

    Not necessarily true – there are a lot of “outside agents” who HAVE no brick and mortar office they answer to, and no other agent to hand this off to. Most of these outside agents just have a host company they book through, and work independently – which is why a client also needs to figure out what level of service they need, and how accessible their agent needs to be for them.

  • Lindabator

    Which is why I charge a service fee BEFORE all the planning is done – to ensure I am not doing a lazy person’s work for them – but I am neurotic as to how soon/how often I contact my clients.