A Qantas spokesperson said the last commission reduction was over 15 years ago, travel agents had had more than a years’ notice about the change, and service fees were a “logical way” to reward travel agents.
“Even before the commission change, we saw many travel agents embrace the growing trend towards a fee for service model that has already taken place in many markets overseas,” the spokesperson said.
Travel agents are reluctant to pass on the charges, which they estimate will range from $ 75 to $ 175 per ticket, but Waddington said the paltry commission rates meant service fees were “unavoidable”.
“We’re not doing it to be mean – we’re doing it because no one else is paying us,” she said.
Ballarat travel agency Frank Ford Travel owner Kylee Ellerton has been in the industry for three decades and remembers when commissions were 10 per cent. Commissions from other areas of the travel industry, such as hotels, tour companies and transport companies still hover around 10 per cent, she said.
Ellerton warned that Qantas’ customer service teams would come under additional pressure from those deterred by the new service fees who choose to book flights themselves but encounter issues they would typically address with their travel agent.
“Without us, they’re going to get busier and busier and there’s going to be no customer service whatsoever.
“Why are we going to bend over backwards and help them out when we’re not getting paid by the airlines?”
The 1 per cent commission was described as a “kick in the guts” by Ellerton who said a number of her clients, loyal Qantas fliers, were switching to other airlines.
Emirates, British Airways, Air New Zealand, American Airlines are among the other carriers that now pay just 1 per cent commissions. Meanwhile, Qatar, Delta, Air France, Singapore Airlines, and Lufthansa and a number of others are still paying 5 per cent. Virgin pays between 2 per cent to 4 per cent depending on the fare.
A spokesperson for the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) said it was disappointing that some airlines had wound back commissions but commended others for not doing so.
“These airlines continue to take a shared approach with travel agents and businesses to supporting travelers,” the AFTA spokesperson said.
Staff shortages and consequently larger workloads were also contributing to the introduction of service fees, especially as airlines were reducing support like commission, the spokesperson added.