“Unethical” travel agent claims commission after client finds a bargain online

bermudaJerry Ginnis says his first mistake was asking a travel agent for a quote on a Bermuda vacation. He’d already found a terrific price online — a week at a luxury resort for $2,800, about 40 percent off the normal rate — but a friend suggested he call, anyway.

The agent quoted him a slightly lower rate and offered to hold the reservation for 24 hours. He agreed.

Ginnis went back online and found the price had dropped to to just $1,100 for the week. Unbelievably, the hotel also threw in a concierge-room floor. Ginnis booked the package on the spot.

And here’s where it gets interesting.

His agent phoned the next day, asking about the reservation that was on “hold.”

“I told her I’d found a better price and had already bought it online,” he says. “She said, “no way,” and asked for the details.”

All of which brings us to mistake number two: Ginnis emailed the agent his reservation number.

The agent phoned US Airways Vacations, which offered the package, and claimed the reservation as hers, pocketing a $100 commission. According to Ginnis,

This agent did not have any authorization to go into my account let alone add themselves as the contact for my trip. In my mind this was unethical. I am at a loss as to what to do about this.

Why is this an issue? Because when Ginnis checked into his hotel, he was asked for a voucher from his agent. He didn’t have one. Although that matter was eventually cleared up, a subsequent call to the agent only made the situation worse. The agent, he says, was defiant, claiming that it was better to be working with an agent, “in case something went wrong.”

“The agent wasn’t looking after my interests,” Ginnis says. “She was looking after hers.”

I contacted US Airways on Ginnis’ behalf, mostly out of curiosity. An airline representative called the agent’s behavior “deceptive” but not illegal. US Airways’ policy is to give travel agents a commission when they call with a booking number.

US Airways won’t strip the agent of her commission, but it is investigating the matter and is considering changing its policy. “We may start contacting clients to verify they’re working with an agent,” a spokeswoman told me.

So who is the agent? I have asked for her side of the story, but she hasn’t responded yet. I can say that she works for a large travel agency in the Philadelphia area. I can also say that Ginnis is filing an ethics complaint with the American Society of Travel Agents and complaining to the local Better Business Bureau about her behavior.

But this isn’t as much about the agent as it is about the practice of collecting a commission to which you might not be entitled.

Should the agent have claimed this booking? Had Ginnis paid for the initial reservation, then yes. But he found a subsequent deal online, without help from an agent.

Makes me wonder how widespread this practice of collecting undeserved commissions is, and whether cus0tomers are even aware of what’s happening behind the scenes.

At the very least, I believe we’re entitled to know if our reservation is linked to a travel agent.

Update (10 a.m., July 22): The agency has responded to my request for a comment and referred the matter to its legal department. Stay tuned.

Update (3 p.m. July 22): A representative from the agency has left a phone message, promising a response by “Monday, Tuesday at the latest.” I’ll update this post when I hear back from the company.

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