You might think two travel agents who sell the same holidays and work the same hours in the same town would earn roughly the same amount.
But if those travel agents are employed by different companies with different pay structures, one could easily be earning more.
So what are the options?
Pros: This is a good choice if you want the reassurance of knowing how much you will earn each month and you don’t want to be under pressure to sell.
It suits those who enjoy spending time with clients without needing to consider how much they will earn from each sale.
“Business travel companies are moving towards basic salary schemes because they have realised clients are wary of companies that pay commission,” said a spokesman for recruitment firm New Frontiers.
Cons: There is no opportunity to increase your earnings, no matter how many holidays you sell. You’ll get the same salary as weaker colleagues. With no financial incentive, it can be hard to feel motivated.
Travel employers who pay like this: Most business travel companies, including Carlson Wagonlit and American Express. Entry-level salaries start at £13,000 for a junior consultant with no business travel experience.
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Pros: You’ll feel like you are working for yourself and get rewarded for your hard work. You won’t feel like you are carrying colleagues.
Good sales people can earn far more working in a commission-only structure than a salaried scheme.
Travel Counsellors’ home-based agents, who get 60% of the commission earned on every sale, net an average of £24,000 a year and a few earn more than £100,000, with the benefits of head office backup and strong commercial deals.
Cons: With no financial guarantees, this won’t suit those who need the security of a fixed income. In many cases, you won’t get sick pay or holiday pay.
Less-experienced consultants might earn less than those on a salary if they can’t pull in enough bookings and you’ll be paid in arrears, though Travel Counsellors has recently switched from making monthly to fortnightly payments to boost franchisees’ cashflow.
Travel employers who pay like this: Homeworking firms such as Future Travel, and companies with franchisee home-based agents, like Travel Counsellors.
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Salary plus commission
Pros: The more successful you are, the bigger your pay packet. This pay structure suits those with lots of experience and motivation.
Those selling higher-value holidays, such as long haul or luxury, could treble their salary in commission.
Flight Centre staff start on a basic salary of £18,000 for the first three months, after which it drops to £12,000, but some sales consultants are earning as much as £70,000 including commission.
Commission is awarded on an individual basis – what you earn is what you get – so you feel rewarded for your efforts.
Cons: In many cases commission is low and a typical consultant working for a high-street multiple should expect to earn only £100 to £300 a month on top of their basic salary. Agents typically receive £3 per head per holiday sold, 50p for each car-hire booking and £1 for insurance policies.
During quieter periods, your take-home pay could be low.
The promise of commission could lead to rivalry with colleagues competing for customers.
Travel employers who pay like this: High-street agency chains including Going Places, Flight Centre and Thomson, plus most independents, but levels of commission vary enormously.
Salary plus profit share
Pros: By getting a share of the profits, you feel like part of the business and enjoy its success. At Trailfinders, everyone at supervisory level and above receives a share of the profits. “It means staff are enthusiastic and they want the company to succeed,” said a spokeswoman.
Cons: Beware of companies using the promise of a profit share or bonus as an excuse to pay a lower basic wage – the profits may never materialise. Some only pay profits if you reach certain targets, so make sure these are realistic.
Most profit-share schemes are position rather than performance-related, so can breed ill feeling if staff feel they haven’t been duly rewarded.
Travel employers who pay like this: Some independents give staff a bonus if the company has had a good year. Trailfinders supervisors can earn £5,000-£10,000 in profits, boosting their salaries to £35,000-£40,000.
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