Travel Waivers: Protect Your Travel Agency
There are a lot of things you learn when you’re a travel agent. One of the most common lessons is that having clients sign a travel waiver form is essential to protect yourself, your clients, and your agency. And sadly, that’s a lesson often learned the hard way. No matter how great a travel agent you are, misunderstandings happen. Accidents happen. Things happen.
Let’s look at how you can avoid going to detention in the School of Hard Knocks.
We spoke with multiple travel agencies on how they protect themselves with travel waivers. I’d recommend getting a travel attorney to look at your final waiver, but to start, there is also a lot of value in the cumulative knowledge from agencies that have already ‘been there, done that.’ Their insights are worth a whole lot when it comes to designing a travel waiver form!
Without further ado, here are some things you’ll want to think about when creating a travel waiver form. And, if you’re an agency with things to add or stories to tell, please do so in the comments!
And okay, because I can't help myself here's a teeny bit more ado! Other articles with forms that keep you in the good graces of your school principal:
Pre-Booking Disclaimers—Quoted Prices May Change!
We’ll start from the beginning: It’s a best practice to state on your quote that, essentially, you can’t guarantee your pricing (unless of course you have locked in rates). While I can’t think of why (or how) someone would sue you for sending a quote and then having that quote change, I think it's important to mention in order to avoid upset clients
If you’re giving prices over the phone, best practice is to send a follow-up email with the pricing and disclaimer. Set the relationship up for success by making sure you’re all on the same page.
Mention that prices are subject to change in the email body or add something similar to below in your email signature:
**** Please Note: All prices are subject to change and are based on availability. ****
The email signature is especially nice because you won’t ever forget to mention it; it’s already written for you every time!1
This is a side note, but also worth mentioning. Seller of Travel laws in certain states dictate that your seller of travel number must be listed on certain items (quotes, marketing materials, etc.). Here's a breakdown of the Seller of Travel Laws.
Travel Waiver Must-Haves
You’ve got them booked, congrats! Now is where you need to be extra careful to make sure you’ve given the client all necessary information and to leave a paper trial showing you did so. This is where the rubber hits the road folks. Get your racing gear on!
Make sure your travel waiver covers:
- Correct names/dates/times/flights/car/hotels
Whoops. Stephanie with a ‘y’ when it was an 'ie'. Or you booked them on the wrong dates. Again, set expectations so that the relationship is a success. A second set of eyes on anything important is always a good idea. In your travel waiver, let clients know they are are responsible for looking it over and making sure everything is correct.
Sample verification reminder from real travel agencies:
Please check the attached information upon receipt and verify all information is correct. [YOUR AGENCY NAME] will not be responsible for omissions or errors if not brought to my attention immediately. Payment must be received by the due date to avoid vendor cancellation.
Visas, passports. Taking kids out of the country without both parents. Documents for getting married outside the US. That's you, kiddos. It's a hard line to draw in the sand, what your responsibility as the travel agent is. You might find it helpful to read this article by travel attorney Mark Pestronk discussing your duties to clients. Canadian agents may find this article helpful, TICO regulations by Pestronk.
Sample documentation waiver from real travel agency:
"DOCUMENTATION: U.S. citizens travelling to any destination outside of the United States will be required to present a valid U.S. passport. Passports must be valid for 6 months past the return date. Some countries require a visa for transit or entry. Passengers are responsible to ensure that they have all the proper documents for entry. All names on documents must match the legal name on your photo I.D., and travel document information must match tickets. Please check the State Department website at https://travel.state.gov for further information. Immunizations may also be required. Failure to comply with these regulations may result in denied boarding, denied entry, and/or government imposed fines. If you are a citizen of another country, there may be additional requirements. Check with the nearest consulate or embassy of the destination you are travelling to and find out the entry requirements for non-U.S. citizens."
- Travel insurance was offered
Veterans agents, you know this but newbies, make sure you offer travel insurance to every single client!
At my previous host agency, I worked with agencies that hadn’t offered travel insurance (or didn’t have documentation proving they had) and the unhappy clients were suing the agent to get their money back. Best case scenario, E&O insurance covers the claim but trust me, an E&O insurance claim sucks the time and life out of you—avoid the situation altogether! Don't know what Errors & Omissions insurance is? I've got just the article for you: Do Travel Agents Need E&O insurance?
You are the travel expert, that’s your value. Part of being the expert is letting clients know travel insurance exists and the risks involved if they decline insurance.
Sample travel insurance waiver from a real travel agency:
"I assume and understand that there is a risk involved with my travel and my travel activities and/or excursions. I acknowledge that I was informed about my options but I declined the insurance."
Even better yet, email a quote through the insurance company's website so you have an electronic paper trail insurance was offered. Since they usually have an option to send reminder emails, it increases not only your paper trail, but also the likelihood they'll purchase insurance.
And some words of advice from travel insurance companies that want to protect you against travel insurance licensing problems? When communicating (verbal or written) with clients, offer/recommend travel insurance; do not sell travel insurance. Repeat after me: I am a travel expert, not an insurance expert.
This all comes back to again, making sure the client understands how things work and you have documentation to support your case if you need it. And, it’s just plain good business to make sure the client has a good experience with you!
Cancellation and change fees vary so listing specific amounts isn’t going to happen. But, you should alert the traveler to the possibility of fees for changes or cancellations to the booking.
If it’s a group, you may already have the specific fees in the contract. Even then, it’s important to have a waiver for each booking since the person who signed the contract may not have shared that information with the group.
Sample fee from a real travel agency:
- Legal Jargon
This one is the blanket statement. Better safe than sorry, right?
Sample travel waiver from a real travel agency:
"[YOUR AGENCY] offers retail travel services to customers, which are provided by separate and independent vendors of travel services. [YOUR AGENCY] does not operate, control, or otherwise provide the services of the independent travel vendors. Hence, customer agrees that [YOUR AGENCY] acts only as agent for the client in acquiring transportation, hotel accommodations, sightseeing and other privileges, or services for the clients’ benefit, and on the express condition that [YOUR AGENCY] shall not be responsible for any loss, accident, injury, delay, defect, omission or irregularity which may occur or be occasioned, whether by reason of any act, negligence or default of any company or person engaged in or responsible for carrying out any of the arrangements, or otherwise in connection therewith."
Sample Trip Confirmation Details Form
The icing on the cupcake is that we made a Trip Details Confirmation Form that makes it easy for clients to verify crucial details of their upcoming trip. You can integrate the form onto your agency's website. Don't be shy! Check it out.
There's more where that came from, too. We have a few other Free Travel Agent Forms and a couple tutorials about customizing them to reflect your unique brand!
Where to Create Your Online Travel Waiver Form
Update 5/6/2016: Speaking of customizing forms, times are a changing. Having clients sign paper forms is sooooooo 2012. If you're wondering where you can setup an easy, online form your clients can view and sign, here's a few places we recommend:
- Cognito Forms - My personal fav and the one I use at Host Agency Reviews.
- Cost: Free Plan (downside? Doesn't include electronic signatures). Pro Plan: $10/mo ($108/yr) with e-signature option (our tutorial about customizing your travel agent forms discusses the signature line).
- Wufoo - Another option out there. I did use Wufoo but changed over to Cognito because of features and a lower price point. As of May 2016, Wufoo doesn't have an electronic signature option without you having to use a third party.
- Cost: Free (downside? No e-signature option). Ad Hoc Plan: $14.95/mo ($129/yr) gives you more forms and fields, but still no e-signature.
- Google Forms - I like that it's Google so it's all in my Google Apps account. However, they don't have conditional logic like Cognito and Wufoo. It's also missing an e-signature option.
If you know of any other options or have thoughts on the above, I'd love to hear them in the comments below!
The Icing on the Cake
We also had Julie, owner of an agency specializing in Europe, share her amazing "Overseas Travel Checklist and Tips" form she sends to clients. It’s an amazing source of information and exactly how you can show your value as a travel agent, by giving them a little extra. Best part is, you create it one time and clients continue to be thankful for the extra resource you're providing to them for all eternity!
Seal the Deal!
Now that you have all the nuts and bolts, don’t forget to tighten them. You’ll need to make sure the travel waivers are sent to every client, signed, and returned.
Travel attorney Jonathan Howe says that simply sending the waivers are helpful if you ever need to defend yourself, but a signature of acknowledgement is really your best defense. He also recommended sending an acknowledgement with a copy of the waiver. It doesn’t need to be complex, just a “Thank you we received your waiver, a copy of which is attached”.
One of the advantages of signing up for an online form maker like Cognito, Wufoo, or Google Forms is that they can send auto-emails to you and the client, acknowledging you've received the form.
Looking for more?
If you have travel agent friends that might find this useful, send it their way, or give this article a like, tweet, or +1 at the top of the article to help other agents find the page. We also have a side Facebook thread going on. It's discussing how to get the darn travel waivers back from clients. A challenge in and of itself! Feel free to add your two cents or soak up some knowledge from other agents.
Lastly, our resources page is great for finding our most popular articles and other resources for travel agents—check it out!
Update 3/29/13: Just found a great resource of free sample waivers & more on travel attorney Pestronk's site.
Update 12/15/13: Fantastic guide by Managed Insurance Services on limiting your agency's liability. This baby is written in plain English. *high five* (Thanks to Joe Matteis for sharing)
How amazing is it that agents shared their travel waivers to help other agencies be better protected? If you want to give them a shout out, we missed something important in this article, or if you want to pass along the kindness and share your travel waiver, let us know in the comments below!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published January 2013 and was completely updated and revamped on May 2016 to make sure we’re giving you up-to-date info. Enjoy!
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- Speaking of for covering yourself, I need an obligatory disclaimer here! I am not an attorney. I aggregated this info from first-hand experience and other industry sources to create a resource that would help agents gain a base knowledge. It does not guarantee protection against lawsuits from clients. All info is accurate to my knowledge but information given should be fact-checked and never be considered legal advice. ↩