Travel Agency Accreditation Options [Infographic + More]

Travel Agency Accreditation

Travel Agency Accreditation: An Introduction

Hello, fearless reader—today, you are about to learn another language: travel agency accreditation acronyms (TAAA . . . jk). I have to admit, being a newbie to the industry myself, my brain almost exploded trying to learn this language. It’s complex stuff, but it’s all broken down here. So even if you’re a newbie like me, you’ll get the hang of it. We’ll look at target markets for different travel agency accreditations, their application requirements, and what services they provide.

First, a really fancy travel agency accreditation flow chart so you can check out which options might be a good for you to explore.

If you’re wondering whether or not ticketing air via the GDS is a good option for your agency, check out this article (STAT!).

(View full size infographic)

ARC ARC ARC VTC IATAN non-ticketing IATA IATAN IATA TIDS Host agency Host Agency Host Agency Host agency CLIA CLIA TRUE TRUE


HAR Article Highlights



Travel Agency Accreditation 101

What is Travel Agency Accreditation?

Funny you should ask. At its most basic, accreditation is a unique number assigned to travel professionals so their business is recognized by suppliers as a travel agency. It gives travel agents the ability to book travel, receive commissions, and—with some accreditations—to issue airline tickets.

I like to think of the travel agency accreditation options like different credit cards — Visa, Discover, AmEx. Some accreditation numbers are accepted more widely accepted than others, but they all do the job. And just like credit cards, accreditation organizations won’t hand out their numbers willy nilly to anyone who wants one, there’s a vetting process and eligibility requirements.

Who is Travel Agency Accreditation For?

Short answer: If you want to be recognized as a travel agency, you need an accreditation number. Typically, accreditations organizations market themselves to three different kinds of travel professionals:

  • Independent Agent: For the purposes of this article, by independent agent I mean an agent that is not hosted—whether they are home-based or storefront. In short, an independent agent can’t sell travel without an accreditation number.
  • Hosted Agent: These are agencies under a host agency’s umbrella. (What is a host agency?) It gets a little trickier here. Because these agents use their host agency’s accreditation number, they do not need to have their own accreditation. In fact, that’s one of the benefits of using a host agency—you don’t have to worry about the financial and administrative responsibility of applying for and maintaining your accreditation. Also, with many host agencies, you will have access to multiple accreditations.
  • Corporate Travel Department (CTD): Some accreditation agencies (ARC and IATA) have specific programs for CTDs (a wedding planner, for example or any company that books a significant amount of air for their employees).

There you have it. As a travel professional, you can gain access to accreditation through a host agency and/or apply for your own. So let’s dig deeper, because that’s where the gold is. 


Travel Agency Accreditation 201

Travel Agency Accreditation Options

Wading through accreditation options can make your eyes blur and your head spin. It’s like trying to remember the names of your 50 cousins at a family reunion: There’s IATA and IATAN. There’s ARC as well as their VTC and CTD programs. There’s CLIA and CCRA’s TRUE#. That’s just the beginning.

Some offer air ticketing, some don’t. Some accept agents outside the U.S. Some don’t. Choosing an accreditation is like finding the right-sized tool for a job. If you’re a leisure agent with a comparatively lower volume of air ticketing, getting an accreditation with ticketing is like chopping carrots with an axe.

So which tool is right for you? Below you can check out info on accreditation options. It includes information on eligibility requirements, geographical locations accepted, cost and well as other details.


Airlines Reporting Corporation

ARC_logo

Explaining ARC to people outside the industry or who are new to it can be tough. So first things first: ARC is a travel agency accreditation company that only works with US agencies. That’s their base. ARC is owned by airlines, and was created to handle financial transactions between agencies (thousands of them) and airlines (hundreds of them). We’re talking transactions to the tune of $88 billion in 2015. Whoa.

ARC is like the accounting arm of the airlines: You buy a ticket, that money goes directly to ARC, and then ARC sends the moola to the airlines. And it’s not a one-way street either. If you book a ticket that earns commissions (more on agent commissions here), the airlines pay the commission to ARC, who sends that money back to you.

And just like with Visa (sorry to harp on the credit card metaphor), if you have a beef with fraudulent activity on your card, you call VISA—not the merchant directly. The same goes for ARC—they broker interactions between agencies and airlines. ARC has three accreditation options: 

1. Airline Reporting Corporation, ARC Accredited Agency: 

  • Who is it for? At its most basic, ARC travel agency accreditation is for U.S.-based travel agencies (or host agencies) that book air through the GDS. The application is rigorous, so if you’re a travel agency that primarily sells leisure, straight up ARC might be too big a tool (and you could check out ARC’s VTC as an alternative).
  • Countries Applicants Accepted From: United States, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Airline Ticketing? Yes
  • Experience Needed? No.
  • Travel Agency Accreditation Cost: $2,000 application fee (includes $210 annual fee) and $210 annual fee. Additionally, ARC requires one employee to serve as an “ARC Specialist” (AS). That appointed employee must pass the ARC Specialist Qualifier Exam (ASQ). The Exam runs $250, with optional classroom training for $300.
  • Application Requirements: 
    • A background credit check
    • Submission of a tax ID number and required state licenses
    • Submission of a Personal History Form for owners and officers
    • An establish bank account with ARC
    • Bond, letter credit, or cash deposit of $20,000
    • Office must have an ARC Specialist Qualifier (ASQ), Manager and administrator for MyARC (Don’t worry! It can be the same person!)
    • Onsite interview with agency owners—ARC representatives will run through the Agent Reporting Agreement (ARA) requirements, overview ARC benefits and make sure application is complete and accurate.
  • Notification Time: 10 days initially to review application; 60-90 days to complete interview and notify applicant of decision.
  • Number of Agencies ARC-Accredited: 12,645 (7,050 separate entities—total number includes branches)

ARC Sound Bite: Learn about the program directly from ARC! 

2.  Verified Travel Consultant: ARC’s VTC

  • Who is it for? ARC’s VTC is a non-ticketing alternative to ARC. It’s a lower cost accreditation and is good for independent travel agencies (no branches) who a.) don’t book a lot of air but b.) want supplier recognition/ to book directly through vendors.
  • Countries Applicants Accepted From: United States, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Airline Ticketing? No
  • Travel Agency Accreditation Cost: $105 application fee and $195 annual fee (prorated first year). 1
    • A background and credit check
    • The submission of a tax ID number and required state licenses
    • The submission of a Personal History Information Form for owners and officers
    • An established bank account with ARC
    • The return of all stock and plates (if applicable)
    • Follow up communication with agency owner.
  • Notification Time: 10 days to review application; 30 days to complete interview and notify of decision.
  • Number of VTC-Participants: 1,723

VTC Sound Bite: Learn about the program directly from ARC! 

3. Corporate Travel Department, ARC’s CTD:

  • Who is it for? ARC’s CTD is similar to traditional ARC, but is specifically for businesses that regularly issue airline tickets to their employees, and only their employees. (For example, a pharmaceutical company that sends employees to multiple conferences or a wedding planner that wants to scout destinations). A CTD is good for businesses that book a high volume of air for their employees. CTDs can either invest in their own GDS or hire a third party (like a travel management company) for booking tickets.
  • Countries Applicants Accepted From: United States, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Airline Ticketing? Yes. CTDs don’t need to have GDS. They can outsource their ticketing to a third party.
  • Travel Agency Accreditation Cost: $3,000 application fee and $206 annual fee. Additionally, ARC requires one employee to serve as an “ARC Specialist” (AS). That appointed employee must pass the ARC  Specialist Qualified (ASQ) Exam. The Exam runs $250, with optional classroom training for $300.
  • Experience Needed? No.
  • Application Requirements
    • An IRS Employer Identification Number (EIN).
    • A bond, letter of credit or cash deposit in the minimum amount of $20,000.
    • Office must have be an ARC Specialist Qualifier (ASQ) and a Manager Qualifier (MQ). 2 Don’t worry! The MQ and ASQ can be the same person!
  • Notification Time: 10 days to review application; 60-90 days to complete interview and give notice of their decision.
  • Number of Agencies CTD Accredited:  143

Insider Info: Primary reason travel agency accreditation is denied? The agency doesn’t meet the requirements of the Agent Reporting Agreement (ARA). It’s a very very long list with tons of legal mumbo-jumbo—but essentially if you’re eligible for accreditation and forthcoming in your application, you should be in good shape.


Cruise Lines International Association

CLIA_logo

We have really good timing with this article, because CLIA has just rolled out some major structural changes to help streamline their membership process! It’s so new that’s it not even up on their website yet! Hurray! The intel you’re getting is hot off the press!

Simplifying their membership structure, CLIA now has two levels, an accreditation for travel agencies and membership for hosted agents:

  • Agency Membership
    • Travel Agency Membership
    • Premier Membership
  • Individual Agent Membership (IAM)

One thing to mention, using a CLIA# doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a CLIA member. Weird. I know. If the agency you work for or your host agency has a CLIA number, that’s at the agency level. You’ll need to get your own members (IAM) if you want the perks of CLIA’s coupon book and access to other goodies that come with CLIA accreditation.

While CLIA’s agency memberships are geared toward vendor recognition, the IAM will not accredit your agency. Rather, IAM’s emphasis is marketing your travel agency to clients and gaining access to CLIA’s education programs and other perks. So if you’re a solo agent who wants the supplier recognition we were talking about earlier, you will want to consider an agency membership.

In total, CLIA has accredited approximately 20,000 agencies and has issued IAM membership to 30,000 agents. Okay! Here’s the scoop on their memberships:

CLIA Membership Levels

1. CLIA Agency Membership:

  • Who is it for? Travel agencies with >50 agents/ICs who focus on selling cruises or who are interested in growing the cruise faction of their biz.
  • Countries Applicants Accepted From: United States, Abrema Brasil,  Alaska,  Australasia, Belgium & Luxembourg, Europe, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, North America, North Asia, North West & Canada, Southeast Asia, Spain, UK & Ireland. (See international CLIA accreditation requirements.)
  • Airline Ticketing? No
  • Travel Agency Accreditation Cost: No initiation fee. $395/ annual fee.
  • Experience Needed? None required.
  • Application Requirements: E&O insurance, and SOT. Applicants must meet all federal, state, and local ordinances relative to selling travel.
  • Notification Time: N/A

  • Number of Agencies CLIA Accredited: ~10,000 agencies

2. CLIA’s Premier Membership:

  • Who is it for? This is an exclusive membership level for large agencies and consortia (with more than 50 travel agents).
  • Countries Applicants Accepted From: United States, Abrema Brasil,  Alaska,  Australasia, Belgium & Luxembourg, Europe, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, North Asia, North West & Canada, Southeast Asia, Spain, UK & Ireland
  • Airline Ticketing? No
  • Travel Agency Accreditation Cost: No initiation fee. $5,000/ annual fee.
  • Experience Needed? May vary. CLIA suggests that agents earn a minimum of $5,000 in cruise commissions annually in order to receive their IAM.
  • Application Requirements: Applicants must be invited to join. There is no official application process.
  • Notification Time: N/A
  • Number of Premier CLIA Agencies: ~29
  • Premier Membership is a new program. No link available yet. 

3. CLIA’s Individual Agent Membership (IAM):

  • Who is it for? In order to qualify for an IAM through CLIA, the agency you sell travel through must have an agency membership.
  • Countries Applicants Accepted From: United States
  • Airline Ticketing? No
  • Travel Agency Accreditation Cost: $115 annually, if your host agency has an Agency Membership. $65 if they have a Premier Membership.
  • Experience Needed? No.
  • Application Requirements: May vary depending on host agency. CLIA suggests that agents earn a minimum of $5,000 in cruise commissions annually in order to receive their IAM.
  • Notification Time: Varies. Agents are approved through their host agency, not directly through CLIA.
  • Number of agents with CLIA IAM: 26,269 agents


International Airlines Travel Agent Network &
International Air Transport Association

IATA_logo

Okay. I need to take a deep breath because IATA—International Air Transport Association—is, quite frankly, the behemoth when it comes to accreditation options. I mean HUGE. They’re the Visa of the travel agency accreditation world, and their accreditation number is accepted globally. 

When it comes to accreditation options, they’ve got a little something for everyone:

  • IATA (international, w/ air ticketing)
  • IATA’s TIDS (international, no air)
  • IATAN (U.S. version of IATA w/ air ticketing)
  • IATAN’s non-ticketing (U.S.-based)

Wait, wait. Why the ‘N’ after IATA?!? IATAN (ticketing and non-ticketing) is essentially a U.S.-branded version of IATA. When you see an ‘N’ in IATA, think US-based agencies. At the end of the day, IATAN comes wrapped up in different package than IATA, but the contents are essentially the same. Same global recognition, same-looking accreditation numbers, same services. In fact, it’s so similar that when it comes to travel agency accreditation numbers, many US agents will use IATA# and IATAN# interchangeably.

For the purposes of this article, I won’t go into as much depth on IATA because eligibility, fees and the application process is different for EVERY country. Yowzers. So if you have questions about an IATA application for a specific country, the best thing is to contact IATA directly.

Okay. Put on your SCUBA gear folks, we’re diving in.

 

IATA/N Accreditation Options

1. IATAN (U.S.-based ticketing):

  • Who is it for? IATAN is US specific, and includes accredited ticketing locations. It’s for any travel professional (see below)—CTD, meeting planner, host agency, or storefront agency—with 2+ years experience in the industry. And if you remember from our ARC talk earlier, ARC processes all the money for ticketing in the US, so any applicant must be ARC-accredited.
  • Countries Applicants Accepted From: United States only
  • Airline Ticketing? Yes
  • Travel Agency Accreditation Cost: $195 application fee (for a travel agency), $85 annual service fee.
  • Experience Needed? Actively selling travel 2 out last 3 years.
  • Notification Time: 4-6 weeks
  • Number of Agencies IATAN Accredited: 11,000+ IATAN Accredited Ticketing Locations in the U.S.  
  • Click Here for More Info!

IATAN Sound Bite: Learn about the program directly from IATA!

2.IATAN non-ticketing (U.S.-based):

  • Who is it for? IATAN-non ticketing is an accrediting option available to any U.S.-based travel agency—home-based, storefront, meeting-planner entity, or Corporate Travel Department—with 2+ years experience in the industry. Financial criteria is $10,000 invested in the business (see more below!)
  • Countries Applicants Accepted From: United States only
  • Airline Ticketing? No
  • Travel Agency Accreditation Cost:  Application fee is $195. Annual service fee is $85.
  • Experience Needed? Actively selling travel 2 out last 3 years.
  • Application Requirements? 
    • Financial Criteria:
      • Travel Agent: $10,000 financial capital
      • Meeting Planner: $20,000 in Gross Travel Income or $200,000 in Annual Gross Sales
      • Corporate Travel Department: $200,000 in annual travel expenses
    • Proof of 2 years of experience
    • Proof of Business License
    • Proof of Business ownership
    • Agencies based in California, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa and Washington need proof SOT
    • Proof of Bank Account
    • Proof of E&O OR 5 years of experience in the industry
    • Two letters of recommendation from either
      • IATAN Accredited Agency (with IATA #)
      • National or International travel industry supplier
      • Certified Travel Associate/ Counselor (CTA or CTC), Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), Certification in Meeting Management (CMM), CSEP (Certified Special Event Professional)
  • Notification Time: 4-6 weeks
  • Number of Agencies IATAN Accredited: 7,000+ IATAN Accredited non-ticketing locations in the U.S.

IATAN Sound Bite: Learn about the program directly from IATA!

3. IATA (outside U.S. w/ticketing):

  • Who is it for? IATA is for agencies outside the United States who’d like to book air and receive global recognition from suppliers.
  • Countries Applicants Accepted From: Everywhere except United States.
  • Airline Ticketing? Yes
  • Number of Agencies IATAN Accredited: IATA has over 100,000 agents internationally accredited under its organization.

3. IATA’s TIDS (outside U.S. non-ticketing):

  • Who is it for? IATA’s TIDS is a non-air ticketing option for agents outside the United States.
  • Countries Applicants Accepted From: Everywhere except United States.
  • Airline Ticketing? No
  • Number of Agencies IATAN Accredited: IATA has over 100,000 agents internationally accredited under its organization.

 


Travel Retailer Universal Enumeration

TRUE_logo

I first thought TRUE was the only travel agency accreditation that wasn’t an acronym. Alas, I was wrong. TRUE stands for “Travel Retailer Universal Enumeration” (if you want to geek out over acronyms). The majority of TRUE agents sell cruises and traditional tour, but it’s especially great option for niche travel agents. Why? TRUE is open to working with smaller boutique tour operators that may not be on other accreditations’ supplier lists.

As an added bonus, TRUE also offers accreditation to agents outside the U.S. (see a list of included countries below) and seems committed to expanding their services globally.

Here’s the nitty Gritty:

TRUE Code

  • Who is it for? The majority of TRUE participants are leisure agents is great for agents/agencies that sell cruises, tours, packages, but is particularly great for specialized agents who want to work with suppliers that others may not work with. Many agents with a TRUE code also belong to a host agency. According to folks at TRUE, the #1 reason agencies report that they utilize a TRUE code is for direct commission payments from suppliers. An added bonus of TRUE is that offer accreditations worldwide.
  • Countries Applicants Accepted From: Worldwide
  • Airline Ticketing? No
  • Travel Agency Accreditation Cost: $300 first year and renewals are fee $240.

  • Experience Needed? 6 months actively selling travel.
  • Application Requirements: 
    • You must be a sole proprietor and/or incorporated business entity.
    • You must be willing to pass a background screening if needed.
    • You must satisfy all seller-of-travel requirements for your state.
    • States which currently require a bond and seller of travel license are Florida, Hawaii, Nevada and California.
    • You must be able to demonstrate at least 6 months of travel selling experience.
    • You must have 3 business references to support your application.
    • You must provide proof of an active business bank account in good standing.
  • Notification Time: Officially, one month. But typically you’ll hear from them in 2 weeks.
  • Number of Agencies w/ TRUE Codes: ~2,000 agencies. However, ~4,000 agents are covered under TRUE

Host Agencies

Usually host agencies are the star of HAR show. And if you’re not sure what a host agency is, it’s worth knowing—this article will explain what a host agency is. Even though we’re highlighting accreditation organizations, we can’t overlook the route of getting your travel agency accreditation through a host agency.

A few points of note:

  • Host’s Commission Rate: Since host agencies have a whole lot of independent agents under one travel agency accreditation number, agents using a host typically receive a higher commission level with most vendors than they would on their own (more on travel agent commissions). At the end of the day, that means more commissions for you.
  • Supplier Recognition: The flip side is that because because you all share the same accreditation number, you’re technically seen as one agency. In your dealings with vendors, the host acts as an intermediary between you and vendor.

Host agencies are especially great options for newer agents (see our host agency list). That way, the newer agent can build the experience needed to apply for other accreditations down the line. Some agents also opt to go through a host and apply for their own travel agency accreditation number.

At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong answer, it’s up to you!

 


Wrapping Up & Major Thank Yous

Do you feel like your brain just ran a marathon? Well, if you’ve made it this far, it’s safe to say that you’re pretty fluent in TAAA. But if you have any questions, drop a line in the comments below

In case you were wondering, the people behind these travel agency accreditation organizations are a friendly bunch. And really really smart. I couldn’t have learned any of this without their help—they are the brains behind this operation. So please let me express my endless appreciation to Jason Sinclair (Director of Corporate Communications, Americas) and Tom Greenway, (Sales and Marketing, U.S.) of IATA; Sarah Kennedy (Director of Public Relations and Marketing) and Charles Sylvia (VP of Membership and Trade Relations) of CLIA; Maggie Fischer (Vice President of Marketing) and Margie Jordan (Vice President of Membership) of CCRA’s TRUE; and Peter Abzug (Director, Corporate Communications) and Richard Gordon (Operations Manager) of ARC.

Thanks also to Bridget Lee of Travel Quest who made this article easier on the eyes.


Howdy! Mary BioHave we met? This is your fellow wanderer, Mary Stein. I’m a freelance writer & editor by trade, and a traveler in my heart and soul. I joined the Host Agency Reviews crew in 2015 as its Editor  (but my official title is HAR Copilot 🙂 ). You can learn a little more about me here.  >>> 

But enough about me! I want to hear about you and your journey into the industry! Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions or if you just want to say hello!


Comments

  1. If you want to reclassify your agency from Accredited Agent to ARC’s VTC, the application fee is $75 plus $195 annual fee the following January.
    • Experience Needed? No.
    • Application Requirements[3. ARC’s VTC application does not require the $20,000 bond/cash deposit or an ARC Specialist on site
    • A manager qualifier is a full time employee who exercises daily supervision of, and responsibility for, the operations of that CTD location and has the authority to make management decisions.

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