Agents miffed by cuts to Europe railpass pay

Travel agents said they were dismayed, but not surprised, by the cuts in certain Europe railpass commissions effective with the new year.

“It`s discouraging. It`s like kicking us when we`re already down,” said Judy Erskine, a travel counselor with World Travel Bureau in Orange, Calif.

As reported, railpass distributor Rail Europe announced the commission cuts late last month, and competitors Destination Europe Resources (DER) and CIT Tours also said they intend to trim agent pay. The move, the companies said, stems from a decision by the Utrecht, Netherlands-based Eurail Group to reduce by 2% its payments to the three major railpass distributors.

Effective Jan. 1, commissions paid by Rail Europe on Eurailpasses, Europasses, Eurail Selectpasses and many national passes dropped to 9% for electronic bookings and 7% for call center reservations, down from 10%.

Point-to-point and premier and special overnight train tickets continue to earn 8% if booked via the Internet, Rail Europe`s in-house Euronet system or the CRSs. Pay on call center and fax bookings, however, dropped to 5%.


On the positive side, commission rose to 9%, from last year`s 8%, for electronic bookings of the German Railpass.

Higher electronic commissions reflect Rail Europe`s desire to split with agents the difference of Eurail`s reduced pay and to steer them to cost-effective booking systems, said Guirec Grand-Clement, executive vice president of distribution.

“We looked at not changing electronic commissions and dropping them dramatically for call center bookings, but we thought it would be too drastic for agents,” he said.

But some agents said they weren`t buying any of it. After Sept. 11, many tour operators raised commissions, noted Georgiann Jaworskyj of Custom Travel Service in Merchantville, N.J.

“I think [distributors] need to tighten their own belts before taking it to us,” she said. “We`re selling their product.”

Indeed, the travel trade accounts for 80% of Rail Europe sales, said Grand-Clement.

Jeanine Flaugher, owner of Flowers Travel in Belleville, Ill., said she thinks offering higher pay for electronic bookings is wrong.

“I hate that they`re distinguishing [between booking methods],” she said. “There`s a difference between working a computer and really knowing how to sell a product.”

But World Travel Bureau`s Erskine said she is resigned to the new booking order.

“Since the commission`s higher, it might spur us to learn how to book online,” she said.

A “bad example” was set by the airlines long ago, added Reiner Lagraff of Peck Travel Service in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

“Distributors are passing the buck to agents and indirectly to clients,” he said. “We`ll have to think about service fees.”

And while they`ll sell railpasses to clients who request them, Lagraff and other agents said they will refrain from pitching Eurail products if commissions stay low.

“I`m not quite as eager to do certain things,” said Lagraff. “I`ll tell travelers to call the distributors direct.”