Are Rebates the Only Way to Fly?

Hughes is a 30-year veteran travel writer living in Sherman Oaks.

Rebate is a four-letter word among many travel agents these days. But for mature travelers looking for ways to cut travel costs, it can also spell bargain.

First, if you're not familiar with rebating, here is a brief explanation:

In a normal travel transaction, a client buys an airline ticket from a travel agent who usually does the work of checking schedules and fares to find the best deal for the client. There is no charge for this service, as the agent earns a commission, usually up to 10%, from the airline.

In the last year or so the practice of rebating--or giving back to the client--a portion of the agent-earned commission has come into being. It started among large business travel operations and is inching its way into the leisure travel market--but not without a loud and legitimate protest from full-service travel agents.

They point out that the time-consuming chore of checking rates and schedules is hardly covered by the commission paid by the airlines, and to kick back any portion is an unacceptable business practice.

Volume Oriented

One result has been the creation of a discount-type travel service that deals in volume, not personal service. These are usually fee-based, no-frills operations where the normal travel agent commission is rebated back to the client.

These are not full-service travel agencies where the agent does all the work: checks airline schedules and fares for the best deal, then issues the ticket and is available to answer questions or provide further service on accommodations, car rentals, insurance, etc.

In a fee-based, no-frills operation, you call the airlines, check the rates and determine your own best fare. Then you call the fee-based operation with the desired departure date and time, flight number, class of service and other information.

That agent will then charge you from $7 to $10 to write the airline ticket and send it to you by certified mail. Payment is usually by credit card or cash.

For your efforts, you are rebated the travel agency commission. Or, in effect, you are getting about a 7% to 10% discount off the regularly published air fare, minus the $7 to $10 charge. On sizable domestic or international fares, this can be a substantial saving.

With deregulation and intense competition within the travel industry, there are a growing number of fee-based travel services.

One such agency making an extra effort to serve senior travelers is called simply ET, an allied service of Educational Tours World Travel Inc. based in Salt Lake City.

'Senior Specialists'

"Although we do offer the fee-based service and rebates to all," said Richard D. Madsen, president of ET, "we have catered to senior groups for some time on tours and charters and we'd like to become better known as senior travel specialists.

"We do offer special bargains for seniors in the several plans that airlines provide, such as Eastern Airlines' Get Up & Go Pass for those 62 and older.

"This normally sells for $1,299 from the airline or travel agent," he noted. "ET gives a $100 rebate if purchased through us.

"Northwest Airlines also has an eight-coupon booklet for four round-trip flights that it sells to seniors for $448 for travel within the lower 48 states. It can be a good saving on air fares for seniors, and at ET we rebate $30 when it is purchased here," Madsen said.

ET has been in operation for about a year now, Madsen said, but the parent company has been in service much longer. It operates a large program of group tours for children to New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., in addition to group tours for seniors and others.

For more information, write to ET, 4685 S. Highland Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah 84117, or call toll-free (800) 331-1198.

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