“I love Disney! How can I become a travel agent?”
This is a question I get asked weekly (no joke). And I totally get it! Disney is a fun place to go, and it can be SO fun to put those plans together. I often tell people – this job is beyond rewarding and so fulfilling because I get to help make these once in a lifetime trips happen. But… there’s a lot to it, and it’s way more than just chatting about dining in the castle & hugging Mickey!
So what’s the truth about being a travel agent that specializes in Disney Destinations? The non-sugar coated version? Let’s get into it.
First, the basics.
What is an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner?
Authorized Disney Vacation Planners (ADVP for short) are *not* individual agents, but rather a distinction given to agencies — these agencies are partnered with Disney to receive a distinction in the industry to show that the agency/their agents have undergone in-depth training and are authorized by Disney to represent themselves as partners of Disney. The individual agents cannot represent themselves as an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, a Disney Travel Agent, etc. The agency is authorized, the agent is not — confusing, but important to note.
How do you become affiliated with an ADVP agency?
Searching out agencies that you vibe with + applying to work for that agency! It’s as simple as that. Of course, there are requirements that many agencies require you to fulfill in order to be considered. A few that my agency requires include: frequently visiting the Disney Parks, having gone on a Disney Cruise (or another cruise line). A bonus is if you have done both of these things since 2020, since so much has changed in the last few years.
How do you pick an agency?
First and foremost, if you have ever worked with a travel agent and you liked them – that’s a good place to start! It’s super flattering when a previous client asks about being a travel agent, it makes me feel like I have shown off the fun side of planning! If you’ve never worked with an agency, start with some simple google searches, such as “Earmarked Disney Travel Agency” and look at websites, read agent bios, look at their agent requirements, figure out if you might be a good fit. Some agencies are super big and that might be what you’re looking for — some might be really small, and that might be even better for you!
How do you get paid? What is the average pay like?
This is the tricky part — this is not a get rich quick kind of job. I think it goes without saying, but this is a primarily commission-based sales position. Traditionally, the agency gets paid by the supplier within 30 days of completing travel, and then the agency pays the agent a portion of that, based on your contract with the agency. So lets say I book a trip today for December 2024 — I am not getting paid for that work until January 2025. It’s a LOT of work upfront & for an extended period of time without seeing a dime. It’s kind of stressful, since cancelations happen all the time in this industry! You truly can’t count on any bookings to result in a payday until your client has physically checked in.
Commissions can vary pretty wildly – but on average, any given vacation is probably earning you around $200-300 in commission, sometimes more, sometimes less! It all depends on the vacation package booked. So when all is said and done, how much you make annually will depend on what you had travel that year + how much those commissions were.
Are there any other ways to make money as a travel agent?
Many agents are now charging fees — this is actually considered best practice by the American Society of Travel Agents, the leading association of travel advisors. After the pandemic, it became very clear that the current state of travel is very unstable and many times, the sheer amount of cancelations can result in hours and hours of work going unpaid. I personally have instituted a planning fee to ensure I am fairly compensated for the work that goes into the front end of planning a vacation; the result has been wonderful – it’s allowed me to have a more dependable income, I’m not as stressed about potential cancelations, and I can take on less clients! However, this has also come with a lot of pushback. The Disney niche is 100% known for offering “free” services, when really – it’s not free at all, you’re just doing a lot of upfront work for free in hopes that the guest doesn’t have to cancel!
How long does it take to start making money?
This depends! On average, you likely won’t see any substantial income for 2-3 years. That can become very defeating really quickly, but the truth is, it just takes time to get the ball rolling. It takes having clients booking + traveling, people beginning to recommend you to their family and friends + so on. I started in 2014, business picked up in 2017, came to a screeching halt in 2020, but boomed again in 2021. I went full time in the last quarter of 2020 (my 6th year in), and have been full time ever since.
What costs are associated with being a travel agent?
This can vary from agency to agency. Some will require an annual fee that covers your training, insurance, and access to agency tools (such as email, voicemail, CRM, etc). Some don’t require an annual fee, but will not cover your CRM and other tools.
Some agents choose to gift their clients something small before/during travel, and that is an out of pocket cost for the agent.
For me personally, I also took on additional costs for a more personalized website, an email platform for sending newsletters, and call scheduling tools. That said – those are not required of me and I willingly took those on. I operated on a zero-cost basis (outside of my agency’s annual fee) for the first few years I was in business.
What kind of training do you need to complete?
You will (traditionally!) complete any agency requirements they have for training — such as how to use their chosen CRM, how to quote a potential client, how to use the tools they provide, etc. Then, you should be completing any supplier-offered training for destinations you want to sell. It’s SO important to complete a supplier’s training if you want to sell it!
What kind of support do agencies provide? Am I just on my own?
It depends on the agency – not all are created equal! This is the number one question you should be asking when interviewing with an agency. Some agencies provide a TON of support and some provide a handbook of sorts and leave you to it. I have only worked with one agency in my career as a travel agent, but the agency I work for provides an incredible amount of support! We provide extensive training, a community to ask questions (there are no dumb questions here!), and so many resources on the backend. While you are on your own to start building your client base, we will provide all the support to ensure your success.
What skills do I need to be a travel agent?
A crazy amount of organization. Patience. Solid communication skills. Free time. Passion & drive. Ability to be a self-starter, without needing much direction. And at the end of the day — the natural ability to sell a very expensive product, because this is a sales job, after all.
What’s your day to day like?
My day will look pretty different from the average agent + one that isn’t full time. But generally, I keep office hours of 9 am – 5 pm, which means I take calls, answer emails, work on itineraries and outstanding quotes during this time. I spend one day a week working on my social media, and I spend another day doing the more “office work” end of things, such as paperwork, auditing my CRM to make sure everything is up to date, etc. I’m also the social media manager at my agency, so I spend a lot of time working on marketing for our agency, as well as addressing day to day things that come up in the agency.
On days that I have dining reservations to do for clients, my day begins at 4:30 am, and often – even though my ‘office hours’ end at 5 pm – I don’t shut down my computer until I go to bed around 9 pm.
All in all though, I try to keep my weekly hours to about 40-50 hours/week.
How do you find clients/market yourself?
So much of this business is strictly word of mouth — you’ll see it all the time in Facebook mom groups: someone asks for a travel agent recommendation and they are hit with hundreds of comments recommending “the best agent”! This is truly the best way to find new clients: have clients that travel, love you, and recommend you.
I also utilize social media, which has been incredibly beneficial for me. This is super saturated market, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be successful – it just means you have to work hard to stand out! The best way to do that is to be yourself, provide a great service and give your clients a reason to come back year after year!
Okay… are there any perks? There’s gotta be.
There are! Many are on a tiered basis, depending on your agency’s level with Disney (or any given supplier). Agencies in a higher tier will receive more annual benefits than an agency in a lower tier. You will also need to hit a certain sales or earned-commission amount before gaining access to these benefits. Generally, though, this can include access to ticket discounts, discounted resort stays, opportunities to be invited to Agent Education Programs, or other special events. Last year, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend an Inaugural Sailing of the Disney Wish before it debuted to the public as well as attend a special voyage on the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser! But with that said — 99.9% of the time you see me at a Disney theme park or on a cruise — I have paid for it with my own money. My vacations are super not free, and are the way I choose to invest in myself, my family and ultimately my business.
What do you suggest I think about before becoming a travel agent?
First and foremost… I HIGHLY recommend you have experience working with a travel agent prior to becoming one. We all like to plan our trips – it’s fun for us! – but if you aren’t willing to work with a travel agent, why should someone be willing to work with you?!
Here’s where I’ve gotta be honest: you need to consider that a passion for Disney & travel is not enough to sustain you in this field. This is a JOB. You are not only handling people’s hard earned money, but their hard earned time off of work, and vacation dreams – it’s a lot of pressure. A simple love for Disney & having a hobby of answering your friend’s vacation questions is barely scraping the surface of what is needed in this job. It is exhausting. It is demanding. It can require long days. One day that sticks out in my memory is waiting on hold for 8 hours to cancel a vacation due to check in less than 24 hours from then, because of an impending hurricane (which meant I was no longer getting paid!), while rocking my fussy newborn + hadn’t eaten all day. Obviously, not all days are like that, but there can be some really tough days with this job.
…. But, there is the fun side! I have met some of my very best friends through this career path. I have had some crazy awesome opportunities. It’s afforded me the ability to work from home, without having to put my babies in daycare. And of course, I go to Disney World, Disneyland and on Disney Cruises as often as I can, you know, for research. 😉
So with all that said…. how do I know it’s right for me?
Well, that comes down to your love of planning + organization and a passion for helping families dream up that perfect vacation + making it happen. Have more questions? Feel free to reach out!