Shipowners and ship managers spend millions of dollars on crew flights. Usually such flights are booked through a marine travel agent: a company, which has domain expertise, relationships with airlines and ability to book marine airfares. Marine travel agent business as such is not too complicated as it does not require expensive assets nor sophisticated technology. This is why the market is full with agents of any shape and form, who offer similar services. But how can you determine if a travel agent is good or bad?

First impression: meet and greet

Maritime flight agent is a person to whom you outsource part of your business. Not only you have to trust them, but you should also have good personal relationships. That’s because you will have much personal contact. In order for cooperation to be effective, you must have good relationships. Yes, this is a bit subjective. But we saw too many problems caused by agents, who were not ethical, ignored your goals and were not a good fit.

The shortest sales pitch from a travel agent from a reputable company started with something like: “book with us because we are based in <some western European country> or because we have better people than ones in <eastern European country>”. What a disgrace! How would they work with a client with international teams in every office? It can get really bad. So, tip number 1: meet them and see if they are nice people.

How big are the teams? Do they have time for you?

These people will be booking flights for all your seafarers. Sometime it can be a large number. And usually this procedure involves a long of e-mail exchange. It means that you want to have an agent, who:

  • located in your timezone
  • speaks your language
  • not overloaded with monthly flights volume

First two is easy. But the workload is a tough one.

If you will ask marine travel agency directly – they will figure this out and may “adopt answers” to your needs. That’s why start from general questions about their offices, how large are their teams. Later ask them about usual volume that their offices process. Finally, divide flights by people and get an indicative number. If you get 1000+ flights per person, do not expect quick replies from them because they are completely overloaded. If you get 100 or less – you should check how much does the agency earn on you. Probably too much to cover under-utilised labour.

If they have 1000+ flights per person they either lie or their staff works 24/7. You won’t get a good service there.

Check agreements with airlines

In order to sell you flights, a marine travel agent has to sign agreements with airlines. Many agents don’t cover all airlines and work with just a few, which is enough for them. But for you as a customer it is important to have such airlines covered, which services your destinations well.

While its difficult to know all ports, of course, especially in spot market trade. But you can get an idea of where you recruit your crew from and what are your most convenient geographies for crew changes. From there you may figure out which airlines have good service there. If your travel agent has agreements with all your airlines of interest, you are good to go. If not, you may expect weird travel plans and/or higher costs.