How Seller of Travel Laws Impact Service Fees [+Free Service Fee Template]
Seller of Travel Laws and Service Fees: What to Know
There’s a ton to consider when creating a service fee structure for your agency. One of the things easy to overlook? Understanding how seller of travel laws will impact your service fee structure.
In our guide to charging fees, we chatted a bit about different kinds of service fees, discussed reasons why agents reported not charging fees, provided a few resources for processing service fees, and highlighted how three travel agents decided on their fee structure.
For this article, we’re going to chat about the complexities of service fees when your agency is located in states with seller of travel laws—or selling to clients in states with seller of travel laws.
We know that there is nothing fun about seller of travel laws and making sure you're on the right side of the law. Absolutely nothing. That's why we decided to spice things up and create a free service fee agreement template that travel agents can customize and use with their clients! Special thanks to WhirlAway Travel’s COO, Jamie Jones for sharing her own forms to help guide our template.
Sneak Preview: A Travel Lawyer Weighs in on Service Fees
Travel attorney Thomas Carpenter shared his two cents on the (sometimes unhappy marriage) between travel agent fees and seller of travel laws.
Did that get you excited to dig into more on service fees and legality? Well, you're in luck . . .
Service Fees for Hosted Agents in Seller of Travel States
We discuss seller of travel requirements, state by state, at length in this article. Here we’re going to dig into the intersections between seller of travel laws and service fees. I reached out to Mark Pestronk via email. He's a long-time travel lawyer and a real expert in the industry. He edits a column in Travel Weekly, that I highly recommend (and which you’ll find linked in many of our articles). If you’re looking for a travel lawyer, Mark is definitely on the shortlist of those who we’d recommend.
Below, Mark discusses the legalities of implementing a service fee structure for agents that operate their business in or sell to clients who reside in states that have seller of travel requirements.
Since some readers that used a host agency expressed a belief they were unable to charge fees in a seller of travel state, I asked Mark about the legalities of hosted independent contractors charging service fees. Here’s what he had to say, verbatim1 :
"This issue is whether an IC, who otherwise qualifies for an exemption under a seller of travel law, will lose his or her exempt status merely by charging a fee to clients.
The answer depends on the state law of each of the five states that have seller of travel registration laws: California, Florida, Hawaii, and Washington. Each state is different.
1. California: One of the seven requirements for exemption is that the IC, 'Does not receive any consideration for air or sea transportation or other travel services from the passenger.' So, this rules out charging a fee. However, if the fee is imposed by the host and merely collected by the IC on behalf of the registered host, I think that you could get around this requirement, even if the host later remitted the fee to the IC. The reason why this workaround might work is that funds collected by the registered seller are protected by a trust account or bond.
2. Florida: An exempt IC must 'not receive a fee, commission, or other valuable consideration directly from the purchaser for the sale of travel.' A prohibition on 'directly' receiving implies that the IC can collect the fee “indirectly,” in the manner set forth above.
3. Hawaii: The law applies only to “travel agencies.” It is not clear whether ICs qualify as travel agencies, but regardless of whether they do, there is no prohibition on charging fees.
4. Washington: An IC need not “be registered if: all money received for travel services by the independent contractor, or outside agent is collected in the name of the registered seller of travel and processed by the registered seller of travel as required under this chapter.”
So, an IC can collect fees 'in the name of' the registered host, have the host process them, and deposit them into the required trust account. As with California and Florida, I see no prohibition on having the host remit the fees to the IC after collection.
In a nutshell, I believe that an IC would be safe in collecting a fee charged by the host, as long as the funds were treated as required by the statute, even if the host later remitted the fees to the IC."
Here's what Mark said above, but in layperson-speak:
1. CA, WA & FL: If you collect service fees you must a.) Collect them through whoever holds the seller of travel registration. For many agents, this may be their host agency, which means the service fees are subject to your commission split with the host—bummer) or b.) apply for your own seller of travel number, set up your own merchant account (Stripe, Square, PayPal, etc.) and run your fees through there. If you go this route, make sure you have your own Errors & Omissions insurance policy. Service fees run through your own merchant account will not be covered under a host agency's policy.
2. HI: There are no explicit prohibitions against charging fees.
If a travel agent has their own Seller of Travel number—hosted or otherwise—there is no conflict with charging a service fee in any of the seller of travel states so long as the required processes are followed.
A Free Service Fee Contract Template for Travel Agents
Okay, so we’ve chatted a bit on legal biz, and we’re going to keep the legal jargon going by providing a free Service Fee Agreement Template for travel agents to customize and use with their clients.
This template comes courtesy of Jamie Jones, COO of WhirlAway Travel, who shared her own personal service fee agreement to help HAR create a template. So when you see her next, buy her a drink! Check out the form and download it below!
If that's not enough to scratch your itch, Mark Pestronk, who offers free sample disclaimers here. Want more? You can find other examples of disclaimers here and less legal-heavy travel agency forms here.
Our service fee template in particular ensures that clients understand your service fee structure and their obligation to pay it! Wondering what the service fee template looks like? Here's a peek:
Customizing the Service Fee Template to Your Agency's Needs!
A few things: In order to use the template above, you'll need to start a Jotform Account. The free plan comes with everything the paid plans offer (encrypted forms, payment processor, signature fields, etc.) as well as unlimited fields. It just limits the number of forms (5), amount of monthly submissions (100), and amount of total submissions (500). For many smaller agencies, those amounts should work for a while!
Here are a few other form programs:
- Jotform - Free! Our personal fav and the one we use at Host Agency Reviews. We used JotForm to create all of our form templates for our Free Travel Agent Forms article including this form.
- DocuSign: Fees start at $10/mo, or $25/mo if you want to send more than 5 documents for signature per month. (Jamie uses this form, and her templates look GREAT).
- Adobe: $9.99/ mo send requests for the individual plan (where you can send e-sig requests to clients). Thanks to Lisa Wood Rossmeissl who commented below about this resource!
There's other resources too—but we're not familiar with them. Do you have any programs you'd recommend for online document signing? If so comment below! We love options here at HAR :)
Tutorial on Customizing Your Travel Agent Fee Template
We won't leave you hanging! Here's a tutorial you can check out for a few tips on how to customize your service fee template! Make sure you check out #5 (at 4:02) which shows you how to set up a custom PDF so your clients get a copy of their signed agreement complete with their signature!
Here's my own little disclaimer: I hope it goes without saying that I'm not a lawyer by any stretch of the imagination. So take the service fee template with a grain of salt! It's not a bad idea to have a lawyer take a look at how you want your terms and conditions tailored to fit your agency needs exactly.