Travel agencies often receive commissions and other benefits and incentives from providers and/or may charge a fee to the end users. Smaller providers, such as boutique hotels, have often found it to be cheaper to offer commissions to travel agents rather than engage in direct advertising and distribution campaigns; however, many larger providers, such as airlines, do not pay commissions. The customer is normally not made aware of how much the travel agent is earning in commissions and other benefits. A 2016 survey of 1,193 travel agents in the United States found that on average 78% of their revenue was from commissions and 22% was generated from fees.
Booking Holdings and Expedia Group, both online travel agencies, are the largest travel agencies on the list of top earning travel companies. Travel agencies can be multinational companies, referred to as "multiples" in the United Kingdom. They can also be medium-sized organizations, referred to as "miniples" in the United Kingdom, or can be independent, small companies. They can be structured as a limited liability company, a sole proprietorship, or can be set up as a host, franchising, or consortium structure, such as in the case of CWT. A traditional travel agent may work for a travel agency or work freelance.Helloworld Travel is an example of a franchised travel agency, giving agents access to internal systems for product and bookings. While most point-to-point travel is now booked online, traditional agents specialize in niche markets such as corporate travel, luxury travel, cruises, complicated and important trips, and specialty trips. Other niche markets include travelers with disabilities, travelers over the age of 60, women traveling alone, LGBT tourism, the needs of residents in an upmarket commuter town or suburb, or a particular group interested in a similar activity, such as a sport. Examples include StudentUniverse and STA Travel, which specialize in youth travel, or CWT, which caters to corporate travel. Many use telecommuting to reduce overhead, and/or provide concierge services. Agents can act as "travel consultants" with flawless knowledge of destination regions and specialize in topics like nautical tourism or cultural tourism. Many traditional agents prefer the term "travel advisor" as opposed to "travel agent" to emphasize their advice, expertise, and connections that are of great value.Outbound travel agencies offer multi-destinations; inbound travel agencies are based in the destination and deliver an expertise on that location.
The number of available jobs as travel agents is projected to decrease. Few young people have entered the field due to less competitive salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of full-time travel agents in the United States dropped from a high of 124,000 in 2000 to around 74,000 in 2014 and is projected to drop another 12% by 2024.
Online travel agents have been gaining market share over direct booking websites, supplier websites, or "Brand.com" websites, websites of the company that actually produces the direct service, such as the websites of hotel chains, tour operators, or airlines.Airline consolidators may offer lower fares than direct booking websites.
In 1999, European airlines began eliminating or reducing commissions, while Singapore Airlines did so in parts of Asia. In 2002, several airlines in the United States did the same, which led to an unsuccessful lawsuit alleging collusion among the airlines, that was decided on appeal in 2009.