There’s a word in the travel industry that has the power to move travel agents to tears. I’m talking about negs – that disastrous state of affairs when you make a mistake and then have to pay for it, BIG TIME.

The road to becoming a successful travel agent is often littered with negs (i.e., negatives) along the way. It’s like learning how to ride a bike: the first few times you’re going to fall and scratch your knee – it’s the only way you’ll learn. Thing of a neg as the literal price you’ll pay to learn the ropes.

But hopefully it only takes a few small negs to learn lessons that will prevent you from losing some or even all of your hard-earned commission. Learn what NOT to do early on, and you’ll save yourself a lot of money and wasted time.

So in the hopes of negating the negs, here are five epic tales of travel agent stuff ups taken from my own and other agents’ experiences – if not helpful, then at least entertaining!


1. The hidden domestic flight – NEG $650


As any travel agent worth their salt knows, you need a Vietnam visa if you want to travel through this seriously delicious South East Asian nation. But this doesn’t apply if your client is only transiting through Vietnam flying with Vietnam Airlines en-route to some other destination – well, that is unless that transit includes a short internal flight…

Sometimes the number of stopovers included in an itinerary isn’t immediately obvious in our GDS and we need to do a little extra digging around to find out. Unfortunately, sometimes we learn this the hard way.

For example, one agent once had a client travelling from Melbourne to Bangkok with Vietnam Airlines, flying MEL – SGN – BKK. However, one afternoon, the agent received a nasty phone call from their client, screaming at them on the other end of the line as they were denied boarding at Melbourne Airport as they didn’t have a Vietnamese visa.

Turns out that the SGN to BKK leg also included a short flight from SGN to HAN – a domestic flight – which wasn’t stated on the e-ticket (so it was actually MEL – SGN – HAN – BKK). This meant that the client would have to clear immigration and customs to board their domestic flight. In other words, they needed a Vietnam visa.

The agent, thinking on their feet, had no other choice but to issue a last-minute ticket for the client flying Thai Airways to ensure the client got to Bangkok in time to check-in to their hotel and begin their tour. It was a costly mistake however, and set the agent back around $650.


2. The last-minute Chinese visa – NEG $300


Another anonymous agent once booked a cruise for a client that went through China. The agent was a novice at the time and fairly green behind the ears, and didn’t know that the client needed a Chinese visa.

By the time the agent realised their mistake, it was too late to obtain a visa in the standard amount of time, and so the novice had to process a last-minute Chinese visa and pay for an extra night of accommodation for the client whilst it was being processed. All in all the agent lost about $300 of their own commission.


3. The misquote – NEG $735


Another agent once accidentally misquoted on a big booking with international and domestic flights, hotels and tours, and ended up making only $15 commission for a booking that literally took them many, many hours of work. He should have made $750.

The agent made sure to re-check their quotes from that day forward. As I said in the beginning, it’s from our mistakes that we really learn.


4. The expired TTL – NEG $450


This one happened to me. I was only a novice at the time and had quoted and held in flights for a client from MEL – LAX – NYC in Gal with United.

After taking a $50 deposit and typing up the invoice, I told the client they had one week to pay the remainder. However, turns out that the flights had a TTL of only three days after holding them in, and when the client came in to pay the remainder a week later, the flights were now quoting a lot more.

Basically, the cheaper booking class seats I originally held went back into the system after the TTL expired and now only a more expensive booking class was available (how exactly does airline ticket pricing work? Read this). I had to pay the extra $450 out of my own commission, and I learned form then only to check the TTL on all my bookings.


5. The Russian NZ visa fiasco – NEG $150


It’s easy to assume that our clients all hold Australian passports. But you know what they say about assumptions, yeah? Assume and you’re basically begging for a slap in the face by old mate Life.

This agent had a client that, unbeknownst to him, held a Russian passport. The client wanted to go to New Zealand for a holiday, and so the agent simply booked her a holiday (flights, accommodation, tour) and sent her on her way.

But, although Aussies have no issues touching ground on Kiwi soil and travelling around, it’s another story for Russians. The agent failed to ask for her passport at the time, and it was only when the client informed the agent of their passport situation that the agent was able to spring into action and organise a last-minute visa request.

Thankfully, the holiday went ahead, but not without the agent incurring a neg of $150 for a fast-track Kiwi visa.

Do you have any of your own EPIC tales of stuffing up on the job, but then learning from it all? Tell us in the comments below…