Travel Agency Accreditation Options [+Infographic]

April 12, 2021

Hello, fearless reader—today, you are about to learn another language: travel agency accreditation acronyms (TAA . . . jk). When I was 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, what services they provide, and then some.

Let's not dilly dally.

Travel Agency Accreditation Options [a Flowchart]

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

Travel Accreditation Flowchart + Comparison

Want an interactive copy of your very own? All you need to do is sign in to download it (in all its glory) below.

Psst! If you're unsure whether or not GDS is a good option for your agency, check out HAR's GDS Primer (STAT!).

⭐️ HAR Article Highlights: ⭐️

  1. Accreditation 101: What is Travel Agency Accreditation and Who Is It For
  2. Accreditation 201: Travel Agency Accreditation Options In Depth
  3. Go Directly to the Accreditation Organization You Want to Explore
  4. ARC
  5. CLIA
  6. IATA & IATAN
  7. TRUE
  8. Host Agency


Travel Agency Accreditation 101

What is a travel agency accreditation? 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—issue airline tickets.

I like to think of travel agency accreditation options like different credit cards — Visa, Discover, AmEx. Some accreditation numbers are 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.


What is Travel Agency Accreditation For?

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

1. Independent Agents: For 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.


2. Hosted Agents: These are agents or 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. BUT some hosted agents choose to also get their own accreditation in addition to aligning with a host agency (I'd say this is the exception, not the rule).


3. 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). We're not going to go too deep into this option because if you're on the site, this probably isn't you. But if this IS you, give me a holler in the comments or at hello@hostagencyreviews.com because I'm happy to provide any extra info you're looking for (if I can!).

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

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 are 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 ax.

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 as well as other details.



ARC Accreditation

(Airlines Reporting Corporation)


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 about transactions to the tune of $97+ billion in 20191. 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.

We'll walk through their three options, tell you what type of agent it's geared toward, and then you'll get more info on our side-by-side ARC comparison chart below, as well as a sample application.


ARC Accreditation Options: A Comparison Chart

Below is a side-by-side comparison of ARC accreditation options:


1. ARC Accredited Agency

At its most basic, ARC travel agency accreditation is for U.S.-based travel agencies (or host agencies) that book air through the GDS.

Long story short, if you're a travel agency that primarily sells leisure, straight up ARC might be too big a tool (think, trying to use a sledgehammer when what you need is a pickaxe).

While you technically don't need any prior experience, the application process is rigorous and lends itself to independent agencies that are a bit more established. To qualify you'll need:

  1. A background credit check
  2. Submission of a tax ID number and required state licenses (such as verifying seller of travel)
  3. Submission of a Personal History Form for owners and officers
  4. An established bank account with ARC
  5. Bond, letter credit, or a cash deposit of $20,000
  6. An agency office must have an ARC Specialist Qualifier (ASQ), Manager, and administrator for MyARC (Don’t worry! It can be the same person!).
  7. Onsite interview with agency owners—ARC representatives will run through the Agent Reporting Agreement (ARA) requirements, overview ARC benefits and make sure the application is complete and accurate.

Long story short, if you're a travel agency that primarily sells leisure, straight-up ARC might be too big a tool (think, trying to use a sledgehammer when what you need is a pickaxe). If that's the case, check out ARC's VTC as an alternative.

Here's the rest of the details and a sample application below:


Sample of ARC's Accredited Agent Application

Here's a peek behind the curtain of an ARC application!

🎧 Here's what ARC has to say about their ARC accreditation! 🎧


2. Verified Travel Consultant: ARC's VTC

When you get down to the brass tacks, ARC's VTC is the non-ticketing alternative to ARC. It's a lower-cost accreditation and is good for independent travel agencies who a.) don't book a lot of air but b.) want supplier recognition/to book directly through vendors.

VTC's are allowed a maximum transaction limit of $25,000 in service fee transactions per week and $10,000 per transaction.

Applying for ARC's VTC is less intensive than the ticketing option (read: no $20k financial obligation, phew!). But their application process still has a lot of overlap with ARC's ticketing accreditation. To apply you'll need:

  1. A background and credit check
  2. The submission of a tax ID number and required state licenses
  3. The submission of a Personal History Information form for owners and officers
  4. An established bank account with ARC

Aside from no air ticketing, another major difference between VTC and an air-ticketing ARC accreditation is that ARC imposes transaction limits are imposed upon VTC-accredited agencies. VTC's are allowed a maximum transaction limit of $25,000 in service fee transactions per week and $10,000 per transaction.


Sample ARC VTC Application

Unlike the ARC accreditation, the VTC application is completed entirely in ARC's portal. Here's what you can expect:


🎧 Listen below to what ARC has to say about their VTC accreditation 🎧


3. Corporate Travel Department, ARC's CTD

If you're here, congrats! You are a diamond in the rough when it comes to our readership! *High five!* I'd love to know who you are!

ARC's CTD is specifically for businesses that regularly issue airline tickets to their employees (and only to their employees).

Why do I say this? Because ARC's CTD is specifically for businesses that regularly issue airline tickets to their employees (and only to their employees). An example may be a pharmaceutical company that sends employees to multiple conferences or a wedding planner that wants to scout destinations. If you're a straight-up travel agency, ARC's CTD is not for you!

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.

Beyond that, the CTD operates much like the ARC accreditation in terms of eligibility, application process, and capacities. Here's what you need to apply:

  1. An IRS Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  2. A bond, letter of credit, or cash deposit in the minimum amount of $20,000
  3. The agency office must have an ARC Specialist Qualifier (ASQ) and a Manager Qualifier (MQ). 2 Don’t worry! The MQ and ASQ can be the same person!
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.


Sample ARC CTD Application & Soundbite

The ARC CTD application is a doozie. Here's what you can expect:


🎧 Learn more about ARC's CTD here 🎧



CLIA Credentials

(Cruise Lines International Association)


CLIA Travel Accreditation Number

There are two quick things I need to mention about a CLIA Industry ID Number (which I'll refer to as a CLIA Number from here one out):

1. CLIA doesn’t consider their CLIA Number an accreditation number. So why are they still in this article? Well because CLIA still offers unique booking numbers/credentials to travel agencies that function in the same as accreditation. An agency gets its CLIA number, makes a booking, and suppliers recognize that number and attach it to total agency sales.

2. Using your host or storefront agency's CLIA# doesn't necessarily mean you're a CLIA member. Weird. I know. If the agency your host or storefront has a CLIA number, that’s at the agency level. You’ll need to get your own membership (IAM) if you want the perks of CLIA's coupon book, EMBARC ID cards, access to their professional development, and other goodies that come with CLIA.

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 need to get a Travel Agency Membership.

In total, CLIA has accredited approximately 20,000 agencies and has issued IAM membership to 30,000 agents. Here's what they offer, below:

Read our entire article on the CLIA Industry ID Number here!


CLIA Credentials: A Comparison Chart

Here's a side-by-side comparison of what CLIA offers in terms of credentials and/or membership. It's important to note that, while included, CLIA's IAM is not a booking credential.

Here's a closer look at their options:


1. CLIA's Travel Agency Membership (TAM)

CLIA's TAM is for travel agencies with fewer than ICs that focus on selling cruises or for those who are interested in growing the cruise segment of their biz.

CLIA's TAM is for travel agencies with fewer than ICs that focus on selling cruises or for those who are interested in growing the cruise segment of their biz.

There are no requirements set in stone to apply for a Trave Agency Membership, and, because there's no air-ticketing, the application process is quick (when compared to ARC or IATAN).

Rather than submitting piles upon piles of business documentation, the CLIA application requires you to sign an affidavit stating that your business is in good standing, following all your local rules and regulations, and that everything you state in your application is truthful.


SAMPLE OF CLIA's Travel Agency Membership Application

More of a visual learner? Feast your eyes on a sample of CLIA's TAM application


2. CLIA's Premier Agency Membership (PAM)

Well, this is going to be a short section, because CLIA's Premier Agency Membership is invite-only CLIA's PAM is for large agencies with more than 500 ICs.

The other detail I can add (that's not mentioned in the comparison chart) is that CLIA will not accept any MLM travel agencies (or host agencies) as a premier membership.


3. CLIA's Individual Agent Membership (IAM)

CLIA's IAM is the black sheep insofar as it's not a booking credential. So why do I mention it here? Because it's so dang popular and I guarantee someone would write me in about a week there was no info on it. So I'm trying to beat you to the punchline!

We write all about the IAM it in this overview of CLIA. But at its most basic, an IAM allows advisors to take advantage of their myriad travel agent education and certification opportunities. Not only that but then you can plug into other CLIA fun, like their travel agent finder, their travel agent coupon book, their Embarc ID card, and more.

CLIA Number for Travel Agents
Click here to learn more about CLIA

If you want an IAM, you'll need to go to your CLIA-credentialed host agency or travel agency. While CLIA recommends IAM's have a history of cruises to the tune of $5k in annual cruise commissions, it's ultimately up to your CLIA-credentialed agency if you can apply or not.


SAMPLE OF CLIA's Individual AGent Membership Application

Here's an IAM application . . . don't forget to alert the CLIA-credentialed agency you're affiliated with that you'd like to apply before you shell out any dough!



IATA & IATAN

(International Air Transport Association & International Airlines Travel Agent Network)


IATA/IATAN Travel Accreditation

IATA is an abbreviation for "International Air Transport Association." IATAN is an abbreviation for "International Airlines Travel Agent Network." Their full names were so long I couldn't even fit it in a subheading. (Kind of like Daenerys' full title on Game of Thrones.)

Okay. I need to take a deep breath because IATA/N 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:

  1. IATAN's non-ticketing (U.S.-based)
  2. IATAN airline appointed (U.S.-based with air-ticketing capabilities)
  3. IATA (international, w/ air ticketing)
  4. IATA's TIDS (international, no air)

Wait, wait. Why the ‘N’ after IATA?!? IATAN is essentially a U.S.-branded version of IATA. When you see an ‘N’ in IATA, think UNited States-based agencies. (It’s a stretch, I know.)

At the end of the day, IATAN comes wrapped up in a 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 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 going fathoms below.


IATA/N Accreditation: A Comparison Chart

Below offers the barebones of what IATA/N offers. Take a look to see which one might apply to your agency.

Here's are more details!


1. IATAN Non-Ticketing

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.

To apply you need:

  1. Proof of 2 years of experience
  2. Proof of Business License
  3. Proof of Business ownership
  4. Proof of Seller of Travel for agencies based in California, Florida, Hawaii, or Washington
  5. Proof of Bank Account
  6. Proof of E&O insurance: This requirement is waived for agents who can document they have 2 years of full-time experience within the last ten years in the travel industry.
  7. Two letters of recommendation from either:
  8. IATAN Accredited Agency (with IATA #)
  9. National or International travel industry supplier
  10. Certified Travel Associate/ Counselor (CTA or CTC), Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), Certification in Meeting Management (CMM), CSEP (Certified Special Event Professional)

🎧 You can learn more about IATAN directly from the source! 🎧

(Soundbite Update: [2:10] IATAN no longer receives support inquiries at info@iatan.org best contact is through their portal @ www.iatan.org)


SAMPLE OF IATA'S Non-Ticketing Accreditation Application

Here's what to expect if/when you want to apply for IATAN's non-ticketing accreditation:


2. IATAN U.S.-Based Ticketing

IATAN's airline-appointed agency application has just a few additional requirements in addition to the ones listed in its non-ticketing application. The air-ticketing application is the same as the non-ticketing application.

But the big difference is that to apply for an IATAN air-ticketing you need to complete the application plus provide proof that you are ARC-accredited.

The moral of the story is, if you're already ARC-accredited, it's going to be smooth sailing. If you're not already ARC accredited, then check out ARC's requirements to book air.


IATA Accreditation Overview (for Agencies Outside the United States)

An IATA offers two accreditation options for agencies located outside the United States:

  1. IATA Accreditation (with Ticketing): An accreditation for any agency located outside the United States that would like to book air and receive global recognition from suppliers.
  2. IATA's TIDs: IATA's non-air ticketing option for agencies outside the United States.

The tricky thing about IATA is that the application processes, financial requirements, eligibility requirements, and fees vary from country to country. If you want to find more information on your specific location, go to this IATA source.


TRUE Accreditation

(Travel Retailer Universal Enumeration)


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." (I feel like this knowledge may come in handy during Jeopardy, someday).

The majority of TRUE agents sell cruises and traditional tours. A TRUE accreditation is an especially great option for those with a travel agent niche. Why? TRUE is open to working with smaller boutique tour operators that may not be on other accreditations' supplier lists. TRUE offers the flexibility for agents to work with suppliers using net rates in addition to more common commission structures).

TRUE is open to working with smaller boutique tour operators that may not be on other accreditations' supplier lists.

As a bonus, TRUE also offers accreditation to agents outside the U.S. (see a list of included countries below) and seems committed to expanding its services globally. On the flip side, it's also important to note that Marriott does not recognize the TRUE number for agents and Disney does not offer a discount to TRUE agents. Way back in the day, TRUE announced they will be moving from an "on your honor system" to one where requirements are actively and continuously enforced. This is still true to this day in 2021.

TRUE offers two different levels of accreditation: travel agency accreditation (which covers up to 5 travel agents) or host agency accreditation (which covers up to 25 agents). You can check out all their eligibility requirements below! Here's the nitty-gritty:


True Accreditation Options: A Comparison Chart & Soundbite

The factor that will separate what TRUE accreditation to apply is the volume of ICs with your agency. See below:

Listen to what Margie Jordan, Vice President, TRUE Network, has to say about their accreditation options!


TRUE Accredited Travel Agency Membership

The majority of TRUE participants are leisure agents. It's a great option for agents/agencies that sell cruises, tours, packages, and more. TRUE is also a great option for specialized agents who want to work with suppliers that other accreditation organizations or hosts may not work with.

The travel agency accreditation level is for smaller outfits and covers agencies with up to 5 travel agents ICs or employees.

According to Margie Jordan, Vice President of Membership of CCRA's TRUE, many agents with a TRUE code also belong to a host agency. Jordan mentioned that the #1 reason agents utilize a TRUE code is to receive direct commission payments from suppliers. A bonus of TRUE is that it offers accreditation worldwide.

The travel agency accreditation level is for smaller outfits and covers agencies with up to 5 travel agents ICs or employees. To apply for a TRUE Accredited Travel Agency Membership, you must provide:

  1. 3 industry references
  2. Proof of 6 months selling travel (1099 is sufficient if you're having a difficult time wrangling suppliers)
  3. Proof of good standing with a business bank account
  4. If you're a Sole Proprietor, you need proof of DBA.

TRUE will ask you for these supporting documents after you complete and submit your application. If you have them all ready to go, the process will be very quick.


TRUE Accredited Travel Agency Sample Application

Here's the TRUE Accredited Travel Agency Application, below. After you fill out the application, TRUE will ask you for supporting documents to verify you meet their qualifications.



TRUE Accredited Host Agency Membership

Everything about the application process and guidelines is the same as above (the TRUE accredited travel agency membership). The only difference is the cost and number of agents covered under the membership.

A TRUE host agency accreditation covers up to 25 travel agent ICs or employees.


A TRUE host agency accreditation covers up to 25 travel agent ICs or employees. Applying for this level is the same process as a travel agency accreditation. Before you submit the application materials you need to be sure you already have your supporting documents to upload, including

  1. 3 industry references
  2. Proof of 6 months selling travel (1099 is sufficient if you're having a difficult time wrangling suppliers)
  3. Proof of good standing with a business bank account
  4. If you're a Sole Proprietor, you need proof of DBA


TRUE Host Agency Application PREVIEW

You'll likely experience a little deja vu with TRUE's host agency application.

Once you get all that good stuff together, you're ready to submit your TRUE application. While wait time is technically one month, you'll probably hear from the TRUE much sooner if you have everything ready to go.



Host Agencies

Usually, host agencies are the star of the 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Supplier Recognition: The flip side is that 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 the vendor.

Host agencies are especially great options for new-to-industry agents (see our host agency list). Newer agents can work through a host as they build the experience needed to apply for an accreditation down the line if that tickles their fancy. 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 Perry Flint, Head of Corporate Communications for IATA; Charles Sylvia (VP of Membership and Trade Relations) and the esteemed CLIA crew (Danielle Haney, Stephani McDow, and Justin Wood; 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 who made the flowchart



Footnotes

  1. Source: ARC Sales Statistics
  2. 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.
About the Author
Mary Stein - Host Agency Reviews

Mary Stein

Mary Stein has been working as a writer and editor for Host Agency Reviews since 2016. She loves supporting travel advisors on their entrepreneurial journey and is inspired by their passion, tenacity, and creativity. Mary is also a mom, dog lover, fiction writer, hiker, and a Great British Bake Off superfan.