What I’m about to tell you could easily get me noticed by the Disney Community- and not in a good way.
More like a Blacklisted kind of way
It’s the kind of information that they know people know, but they don’t want people to share.
IF YOU LOVE YOUR TRAVEL AGENT- STOP READING THIS POST. Please, stay with them and keep them employed. Go to the Beginner’s Guide and shield your eyes!
I’m not anti- travel agent, just pro informed choice when it comes to a vacation. I’ve used travel agents, I think they’re pretty nifty, but the interwebs… well if you hang out in groups and forums long enough, you’ll know.
And I sat on this post for months… literally months it laid in draft form.
Well when you get to the end of this post, you’ll have a pretty good understanding why I’ve hesitated to put this in an official post for the world to see.
And then you can decide if you’ll love me or hate me for it. So before we go any further, let me ask you. Do you understand toilet paper math?
You know the drill… 6 Jumbo rolls for 10 dollars, 8 jumbo rolls for 11, 12 regular rolls for 12 dollars. You’d need to bring a scale and a measuring tape to actually figure out if your getting a good deal.
It’s kinda like mattress math, or a car salesman. This deal here, this markup there, this discount if you buy this at full price, but did you get a good price?
That’s for you to decide.
What exactly are Disney Travel Agents?
These are the people that plan your vacation… for free.
or I guess I should say “free”.
And in full disclosure of this post I’ve used 3 Different Disney Planners at 2 Different Agencies over the last 12 months.
2 of them were obsessed with Disney and provided great recommendations and upsells, the other one was more of a standard travel agent, yet still helpful and accommodating when planning my vacation.
They helped or suggested things like:
🏰 where’s the best places to stay with kids
🏰 General Questions like how does transportation work and how to get from the airport to Disney World
🏰 Planning Fastpasses and Fastpass strategy
🏰 Restaurant Recommendations and Reservations
🏰 Purchasing Tickets for the parks and extra options
Basically, they are there to help you plan your magical vacation, which is totally a genius marketing move on Disney’s part. People always sell better one on one.
So what soured your grapes?
Well… there’s rumblings online of shadier agents, issues with them charging planning fees, canceling, or just never getting back to you.
So I went undercover… and I emailed 7 large agencies during the free dining promo that was released in January 2020.
I requested a moderate resort for 5 (2 adults, 3kids) 5 day park hopper tickets with the free dining plan.
And let me tell you what… I had exactly ONE person email me back.
Remember those magical vacations we mentioned? Yeah, they get real magical when you are staying in a deluxe resort with a park hopper pass, deluxe dining plan, early morning magic tickets and dessert parties with a few extra paid goodies in place.
After all, Disney is about profit and you can easily buy your way to a fantastic trip (Like a VIP tour will get you to all 4 parks in one day, unlimited fastpasses and a tour guide that chauffeurs you around and brings you to all the back entrances only accessible by paid guide- all for a measly 400 dollars an hour per group)
It’s at this point that most of the people in the Disney community (those bloggers and influencers you love to love) decide to either keep their mouth shut or they partner with an agency that they love to work with.
This is more of the ‘insider’ information because once you see how a site is monetized you start to better understand why they promote certain things.
Take for instance this course that teaches you how to be a travel agent. In the intro section, the writer emphasizes why it’s important to get the HIGH paying clients.
How Disney Sites and Influencers are Monetized
There’s a muddled mess of how travel agents are promoted out the yang. Combine that with nothing “bad” and no negative reviews being publically said about them online is partly to blame on the bloggers. (and I’m guilty because I don’t always love rocking the boat!)
and I’m going to put a blanket disclaimer here that I have no ill will towards these bloggers (should I say ‘my colleagues’ ?!) and this is based on the way their sites are set up because this is the kind of stuff that people will sue over in order to keep quiet.
So here’s an interesting tangled web of a way that bloggers and travel agents can work together to get leads to set up their vacation to get a commission from Disney.
The blogger recommends a travel agent on their site, gets an average 5-15% of the sale, and then the travel agent (depending on how they rank) gets 10-20%. This was as of June 2019 when I spoke with a travel agent in one of my paid blogging groups. She shared that it depends on who owns the agency and if they specialize in Disney (and have that diamond rating). For other places, like Universal or Seaworld, you can get 50% commission on the entire sale.
It’s why you’ll see that a lot of bloggers and site owners have their own travel agency. Something that some are open about… and some that aren’t.
They’ve been known to go to extreme lengths to recruit people and guests
If you’ve been in the Disney World Community- you’ve seen it. The Travel agents that hit you up in PM or email to get your number.
And can you blame them? They’re responsible for getting their leads.
So it’s actually kinda genius what the Kingdom Insiders/Academy Travel People did with this collection of sites.
Kingdom Insiders ‘recommends’ Academy Travel
And then Academy travel and mickey vacation are owned by the same person and the site recommends Kingdom Insiders. So an internet ménage à trois, I dig it.
Creating a blog has known to increase lead generation and eyeballs by 400% – this is certainly an effective way to drive traffic to the agency, It just helps build relationships when people are transparent about the whole thing.
The Bloggers and Influencers are in on it too
Natually, people are more likely to recommend things that a get a kick back from, so it comes as exactly zero surprise when influencers recommend travel agents in their content.
WDW Prep School clearly states that she owns her own agency in her about page.
Smart Moms Plan Disney also clearly states that she owns her own agency.
Undercover Tourist monetizes their sites through affiliates, so if you wonder why so many people recommend them… well either they really like them OR they get a kickback or both.
The Dis has a wonderful collection of travel agency horror stories, and then #shamelessplug mentions that they own a Travel Agency and highly recommend them. That’s the kind of honesty we need in the world.
And, he really does provide good advice for not getting scammed by some of these travel agents.
So when you google things like ‘are travel agents really a good deal’ you’ll find a lot of information skewed towards YES because people have incomes on the line.
Which leads me to…
Why travel agents are recommended
- Because they do a damn good job
Like I’ve said, I’ve worked with 3 last year, and two were veryyyy good. Insanely good. In fact, I had to cancel on one, and I felt so bad about it I sent her a gift card because I know she had to work for free.
2. because people get perks for working with travel agents
When you work with someone, you tend to feel more valued and get personalized care. For many people that only go to Disney a few times in their life, they want all the bells and whistles. So when you work with a disney agent, and they know they are getting paid well, they will do everything they can to make sure you are happy.
3. Because other people get paid
Like we saw above, travel agents and bloggers/influencers work in conjunction with one another. This benefits those that need a travel agent, and helps those bloggers/influencers who provide free information. Nothing is ever really ‘free’ so it’s reasonable that these people make money for the work that they do.
4. Because of cognitive dissonance
Much of what happens can be blamed on this fancy psychology term that basically means, people will defend their beliefs even when presented with contradictory facts, because they don’t want to change.
Even if you know it’s not ‘cheaper’ to use a travel agent, you may still choose them because you want a quality planner (and you don’t want to pay out of pocket)
It’s the same reason people finance appliances into a 30 year mortage even though it’s not a financially smart thing to do- it’s about not paying out of pocket and convenience.
5. Because they could get blacklisted
I’ll admit, I have nothing to lose besides some relationships by talking about this. I have no media pass with Disney, I have no business relationships with any travel agents, and I’m not mentioning this to any travel agents I meet- not really dinner conversation.
But many many many people do (more than you realize) and risking that by talking about how travel agents and car salesman are similar is not at the top of their list.
6. Because people deserve it
it’s 2020 and people deserve to get paid. Instead of paying a wedding planner before the big day, you can roll your payment of your travel agent into your overall costs. badabing-badaboom. Then they can plan your vacation and you don’t need a degree when it comes to Disney World.
How to pick the best travel agent
Wouldn’t that be some shit if I just ragged on all those people up there and then told you about some travel agent that I personally recommended?
I’ve read those types of articles before, the buyers intent type articles that give you the magic egg at the end that solves all your problems. I could go on and on about marketing tactics (thank you college) but I’ll stay focused.
So I don’t have any travel agencies that I personally recommend- now that I do this for a living I’m very picky about how my vacations go.
So what do you look for in a travel agent?
Number 1 is what can they offer you. If you get a planner, get one with the works. Make sure they visit Disney World regularly, have a similar family to yours (you wouldn’t want a college student planning your multi-generational family trip because they have no idea what it’s like to do Disney with Kids AND this is not stereotypical. I’m sure many childless Millenials are amazing at their jobs, but if ya know, ya know. Vacationing with kids isn’t for the faint of heart)
Ask them if they plan dining reservations and fast passes and tell them at the beginning that you aren’t interested in any upsales that won’t benefit your family (remember they work on commission) unless you genuinely are. Many of them won’t contact you back and that’s ok- you didn’t need the sales pressure.
Ask them things like:
🏰 When was the last time you went to Disney World (or cruise or land) IMPORTANT. needs to be in the last year. Things change SO fast.
🏰 Do you charge a fee for any of the above? some do- some don’t. Remember they dont work for free.
🏰 Are you an authorized Disney Travel Planner? IMPORTANT. you don’t want to get a timeshare or scammer by accident. Please verify this too.
🏰 Will you book fast passes and reservations? super helpful if your going this route.
🏰 Do you have annual passes or park hopper tickets? good to know because it can influence how much they help based on what they know.
Number 2 Reviews NOT social media followers. You can easily buy social media followers, but it’s pretty obvious if you poke around at potential candidates.
But reviews can be misleading too- because they have friends and other agents that post good reviews for them. How many people have sold a Direct Marketing product and been told to get your friends and family to like your page and leave reviews?
Yep- thought so. We all know it happens. So just look for current up to date reviews on Independent websites NOT Facebook groups or bloggers.
Why not groups? Because they have affiliate programs and anyone can pay an admin of a facebook group 100 bucks a month to get mentions and reviews. It happens all the time and it happens with these travel agents too.
Here’s the thing though- do you think that some of these very large bloggers with their own sites are going to recommend travel agents that will ruin your trip?
I would hope not!
This is their livelihood on the table. They want you to read their stuff, follow them on social, then use the agents they hand picked. It’s a very smart way of doing business.
Travel Agents are the Car Salesmen of the Disney World
Do Travel Agents save you money?
If you made it this far and you’re asking that question, here’s a refresher…
they get paid commission on how much they sell you.
But I don’t believe in blanket statements, so let me just say that it’s possible they could save you some money.
So for example, they sell you a 3000 dollar vacation and they make 250 dollars from it. Or an average of 15 dollars an hour for helping you.
The more you spend, the more they get paid. It’s the secret to why some are willing to book fastpasses and go the extra mile and some aren’t.
Generally, it’s cheaper to book it yourself because you can hunt for deals, and then avoid the sales pressure tactics for upsales- (like the Disney Dining Plan which costs more than it saves 80% of the time)
Though I had one travel agent that was really good about staying on top of the discounts. This woman was on the ball!
>But there is a true exception to the “can they save you money” rule.
If you get an agency that purchases blocks of rooms, you can generally get them cheaper than average, though they are likely around the same price of a bounceback offer or annual pass discount.
These room blocks are normally at moderate and deluxe resorts too- so comparing them to other discounts would be wise.
They could also save you money if SHTF. This is their job and a good travel agent will know how to navigate through any vacation mishaps that might happen.
Do Travel Agents offer things that you can’t get elsewhere?
Technically yes, they offer their own bonuses to get you to purchase through them. They tell you most of the offers once you start talking to them, but some places make it a priority to advertise their bonuses before you book as a reason to get a quote.
Also, you can’t rent DVC points through a travel agents, so there are things that they can’t do.
The Future of Travel Agents
Maybe you’ve noticed all the new things Disney is doing (or maybe that’s just me as a die hard fan/blogger) but they are making it easier to do things, and more digital.
The app keeps getting new additions, the booking and purchasing process is easier and more streamlined, and they roll out new blog posts, FAQs and emails everyday about how to ‘do disney’ on their site. They are relying less on influencers and more on getting people to their site.
Basically, they are trying to make this as stress-free and as easy of a process as possible (it’s why they keep raising their prices every year- so they only get the cream of the crop that will actually enjoy the trip)
They debuted a new concept at D23 called the ‘Genie’ which will basically make the need for travel agents and bloggers obsolete.
Obviously, change doesn’t happen overnight, so I don’t see this having serious implications in the next 3-5 years. But in 10 years? Travel agents probably won’t be much of a thing anymore. If you don’t believe me, believe my graduate degree in H.R.
There’s estimates that 25% of your online conversations will be with chatbots (A.I. technology) this year, and we know that having a chatbot increases sales conversions.
So this whole travel agent thing could be totally irrelevant in 15 years as there will only be a few agencies that survive the changes predicted.
This blog might not even be a thing, and honestly, I’m ok with that. You’ll just find me knocking on your window asking if I can help you plan your Disney World Vacation. (or maybe I’ll go back to snail mail… I will find you, and I will help you get to Disney)
Travel Agents Nay or Yay?
Do you need a travel agent for Disney World? no
Is a travel agent required for Disney World? that’s another big fat, nope, because you can do everything on your own, either online or through the phone. Though I don’t recommend the phone because that’s gonna take hours. #askmehowIknow
Could you use one to help you save time? Sure! Notice above that it takes hours on the phone sometimes and you can certainly save time because travel agents do this all the time. They’re literally travel pros
Should you consider one? sure, I’m not here to dissuade you from using one- there are times that they are beneficial and times that they aren’t.
Do you like doing your own thing and changing whenever you want? Do it yourself.
Travel Agent Horror Stories
This is not really the post for this, but I figured listing the most common scams will help you for if you decide to us a travel agent.
First things First, Travel Agents ‘own’ your reservation, and there’s stories of TA’s not returning calls around the 35 day mark (when you want to change) and then saying they can’t change anything at the 29 day mark (which is true because Disney cuts everyone off at 30 days)
SOOOO, you’ll find reviews online of people wanting to change reservations at the 33 day mark and the travel agents ignoring them till the 29 day mark when changes can’t be made.
You’ll also find those outlier stories, like the one of Patricia Ankerson, whose TA wouldn’t give her login access to My Disney Experience and then had the magic bands sent to the TA’s address… Buyer Beware- this is your Vacation and you can control everything about it.
And last, but not least, there are MULTIPLE reports of travel agents just going out of business (which if you think about the year you need to plan Disney Vacation doesn’t seem so crazy) So book with a company that has been in business for years.
MAIN TAKEAWAY TL;DR
Most importantly- go to Disney, or any theme park. Spend time with your family, take the trip!
Just make sure you go on your terms, your budget, and do what you want to do. If you hire a travel agent, YOU are the boss. Even with a 200 dollar deposit, you can change up to 30 days before your trip (and the 30 days is Disney’s rule, not theres)
3000 words later and I gotta know… are you a lover of Disney Travel agents? or more ‘buyer beware’?
8 thoughts on “What you need to know about Disney World Travel Planners (and why they don’t tell you)”
I thought this was a well written article and gives a honest perspective, to consider, that I haven’t seen on other sites.
Thanks Mike! I like providing info so everyone can make the best (and most informed) choice for their family vacation. Hopefully those that need a travel planner can use one, and those that would be happier without a Disney Vacation planner can use the free guides to make the most of their Disney World Vacation.
If I book through a TA and I want to modify my reservation do I HAVE to go through them or can I call Disney myself?
My main concern is the resort doesn’t have my dates available. I’ll go for the next week, no big deal. But I’m booking a year out so I want to keep a close watch to change it if more resorts open up. I contacted a TA 60 hours ago. We emailed a few times and I gave them my exact dates and resort and I’ve barely heard back. I’ve been waiting all day for a quote. I don’t want to have to wait on them to modify my trip. Your post is very insightful and makes me think I’m better off booking directly with Disney.
If you use a TA for hotel, you have to go through them to modify your reservation. If you use a TA for booking your park passes, your dining reservations, or a special day (all available in the MyDisneyApp) you do not need to go through the TA to modify them.
Are you affiliated with Academy Travel or Smart Moms Travel?
I am not affiliated with any travel agency, nor have I ever received any type of commission, monetary/physical compensation, or perks/benefits/incentives from any travel agent/agency ever. Totally unbiased reviews here.
Don’t use Smart Moms Disney Travel agents!!! They did not get up at 5am to book my dining reservations like promised. They showed no lack of remorse or empathy. They didn’t help me. My agent didn’t let me know the day i picked to go to magic kingdom was the day it closes early. It’s a scam.
Thanks for sharing Sara! I’m not affiliated with any travel agency, but good to know your experience.