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. 😬
How will a waiver protect you? Take it from travel attorney Chun T. Wright:
A waiver can help:
- Educate travelers and participants about the risks of travel (and screen out travelers who are not suited to the trip), and
- Protect you and your business from legal claims that range from minor mishaps (e.g. small injuries) to catastrophic events (e.g., death).
With Wright's expertise, we're going to walk you through everything you need to know about travel waivers. And we're even going to give you a free travel waiver you can add to your website that just needs to be customized to your agency. That's right! We've done all the hard work for you. You just need to put in your travel agency name and logo, and it's ready to go!
Having clients sign a travel waiver form is essential to protect yourself, your clients, and your agency
Below is a list of items to consider including in your travel waiver(s). If you already know what you want, use the links below to fast-forward to the types of waiver verbiage you're looking for!
⭐️ HAR ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS: ⭐️
- 8 Waiver Terms & Disclaimers to Protect Your Agency!
- 5 Items to Consider For Your Liability Waiver
- Pre-Booking Disclaimers
- 5 Components to Travel Agency Waviers
- [FREE DOWNLOAD] Trip Confirmation Form
- Create A Personalized Online Waive for Your Agency
- Working with a Travel Attorney to Customize Your Waivers & Disclaimers
8 Waiver Terms & Disclaimers to Protect Your Agency!
Below is a list of terms and disclaimers that you could include either in one of your waivers or in your terms and conditions. The best way to figure out what works best for your agency is to consult with a travel attorney. Here's what to consider!
Prices and costs can change and your client needs to understand that possibility! A pre-booking disclaimer will help.
This section discusses which trip details your clients need to sign off on (even though you went over your client's itinerary with a fine-tooth comb).
How incredibly sad would it be if your clients sailed into port of a cruise destination only to realize they didn't have the proper visa to disembark? According to Wright, "This waiver will ensure the clients know that it is their responsibility to ensure that they have the proper documents (passports, visas) and vaccinations and that they meet all other entry requirements."
It's your client's prerogative if they decline travel insurance, but it's your prerogative to make sure they verify that
- You offered travel insurance in the first place or encouraged them to purchase it, and
- Whether they secured travel insurance or not.
A free client-facing form making sure you've got your bases covered. Copy it over to your site with a click of the mouse!
Here's a list of programs you can use to create free waivers for your agency.
If you charge fees, mentioning it in your waiver or disclaimer will save any misunderstandings between you and your client. Wright adds that "If a portion of the trip cost is for your fees, say so. Otherwise, this could complicate refund claims."
8. Liability Waiver that limits your risks
The next one is so important that it necessitates its own section with a legal take from Wright.
5 Items to Consider For Your Liability Waiver
Below, Wright breaks down the importance of a liability waiver and what it may include.
1. A list of the representative inherent risks and any special risks of a trip and activities that are included. Risks of travel may include venturing into remote areas with lack of access to medical facilities, having to be quarantined, getting a virus or illness, encountering roads and other infrastructure that may not be to the same standards as the traveler's home country, and so on.
2. A responsibility statement that you are not responsible for the actions/inactions of your suppliers.
3. A release clause in which the participant or travelers expressly releases your business from claims for damages related to the risks of their trip and/or activities. This clause often begins with this or similar language: "I, the traveler RELEASE, DISCHARGE, COVENANT NOT TO SUE AND HOLD HARMLESS Business A and its [list of all who are released]." Be sure to categorically identify all individuals and entities that should be included in the release, e.g., owners, officers, employees, agents, representatives, related entities, independent contracts/sales representatives, volunteers, successors and assigns. "Successors and assigns" are often missing in liability waivers but if you change your business entity or sell your business, a liability release that omits "successors and assigns" may not cover the new entity or successor business. This clause should stand out; use bolded language, larger type and/or a different font to ensure that the traveler/participant's attention is drawn to it.
4. An express voluntary assumption of the risk clause that states that the traveler understands and voluntarily assumes the risks, both known and unknown, associated with the trip or activity.
5. A forum selection, venue, and choice of law provision. This provision sets out where disputes will be brought (your location will typically be preferred), what forum (e.g., state or federal court or arbitration), and what law will govern.
Pre-Booking Disclaimers—Quoted Prices May Change!
We’ll start from the beginning: It’s a best practice to state on your quote that you can’t guarantee your pricing and costs (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 it to avoid having an angry client. "And while they might not sue you," warns Wright, "they could report you to your local consumer protection agency which will in turn ask you to explain why your actions were not deceptive."
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 regulations in certain states dictates in certain situations that the SOT number must be listed on certain items (quotes, marketing materials, etc.). Seller of Travel Laws can be a real doozie, so make sure you read up on Seller of Travel Requirements here.
5 Components to Travel Agency Waivers
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 trail showing you did so. This is where the rubber hits the road folks. Get your racing gear on!
Once you've made that booking, let's go over the information that needs to be double/triple/quadruple checked to make sure it's accurate and that you've disclosed everything to your client.
1. 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. These are all things that can cause headaches later on if you haven't stressed to your client the importance of looking over their itinerary to make sure everything looks okay.
In your travel waiver, let clients know they are responsible for looking over their itinerary and making sure everything is correct.
Sample verification reminder from a real travel agency:
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.
It goes beyond checking the itinerary to make sure everything is correct. Visas; passports; taking kids out of the country without both parents; documents for getting married outside the US. Knowing this stuff and communicating it to your client is part of your job as a travel agent.
If you're not exactly sure what your responsibilities are to your clients, 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 a real travel agency:
"DOCUMENTATION: U.S. citizens traveling 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 traveling to and find out the entry requirements for non-U.S. citizens."
3. 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, Errors & Omissions (E&O) insurance covers the legal fees to fight the lawsuit.
Worst case scenario? You end up with a very hefty legal bill because you didn't have documentation that you offered travel insurance to your client.
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 here's 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.
4. Fee DISCLOSUREs
Next up? Fees!
Making sure your clients understand what fees are involved in working with you is key to the client having a positive experience. Whether they're your fees or a supplier's fee, ensure your client understands when those fees kick in and what the amount is.
Cancellation and change fees may vary based on when they cancel and other factors, so listing specific amounts may not be a possibility. 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 disclosure from a real travel agency:
5. Legal Jargon (AKA: Blanket statement)
Our last component to your travel wavier? This one is the blanket statement.
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 there with."
HAR's Free Travel Waiver: Trip Details Confirmation Form
That wasn't so bad was it? :) But we can do even better. Let's whip a travel waiver form for you right now!
The icing on the cupcake is that we've already made a Trip Details Confirmation Form for you! It makes it easy for clients to verify crucial details of their upcoming trip and goes over all the travel waiver points we just discussed.
- Travelers' legal names spelt correctly? ✔️
- Dates of travel and departure/arrival city correct? ✔️
- Passport good for 6 months after they return home? ✔️
- Travel insurance was offered? ✔️
- Disclosed to clients visa/vaccination requirements? ✔️
- Made sure your clients have read and signed that they understood all of this? ✔️
You can integrate our free form onto your agency's website with one click of the mouse. Check it out.
There's more where that came from, too. We have a few other Free Travel Agent Forms and a couple of tutorials about customizing them to reflect your unique brand!
Where to Create Your Online Travel Waiver Form
Okay, I hope this isn't the case anymore, but if you are sending out paper travel waiver forms for your clients to sign, let's stop that. Having clients sign paper forms is sooooooo 2012. ;)
Our free travel waiver form from the previous section shows you how handy and professional an online waiver can be. But . . . if you're more of a DIY-er and want to build your travel waiver from the ground up, no problem! (But ours is pretty darn good so make sure to check it out.)
Here's our recommendation for online form creators:
- Jotform - My personal fav and the one we use at Host Agency Reviews. It's the one I highly recommend because it is a zillion times more powerful than any other form builder out there. And it does everything you'll need (including getting client signatures)... for free!
- Cost: Free Plan (downside? Very little. The free plan comes with everything the paid plans offer as well as unlimited fields. It even includes e-signatures and payment integrations for clients!) The next plan up is the Bronze Plan: $24/month (annual plan). We used JotForm to create all of our form templates for our Free Travel Agent Forms article.
- Wufoo - Another option out there. I did use Wufoo but changed over to JotForm because of its features and lower price point. As of July 2020, Wufoo doesn't have an electronic signature option without you having to use a third party.
- Cost: Free (downside? No e-signature option so it's not an option for forms where you need the client's signature). Ad Hoc Plan: $14.95/mo ($129/yr) gives you more forms and fields, but still no e-signature.
We have used Cognito Forms in the past (before we discovered Jotform), but had a pretty terrible experience with their customer service and no longer recommend them.
If you know of any other options or have thoughts on the above, I'd love to hear them in the comments below!
Working with a Travel Attorney to Customize Waivers and Disclaimers for Your Agency
Now, we spoke with multiple travel agencies on how they protect themselves with travel waivers. There is A TON of value in the cumulative knowledge from agencies that have already ‘been there, done that.’ In the end, though, they're travel advisors and not travel attorneys.
The needs of an adventure-focused travel advisor will not be the same as those who focus on student group travel. Who can help you finetune your travel waivers and disclaimers? A travel attorney. So just to be safe, I’d recommend getting a travel attorney to look at your final waiver.
According to Wright "Travel attorneys will customize the waiver to your locale, ensure that it is complete, and advise you on issues that are important that you may not have thought about (e.g., “forum selection,” “venue, and “choice of law”). An experienced travel attorney will be an invaluable part of your advisory team. They can help you avoid issues and respond to any problems that do come up."
The Icing on the Cake: 40+ Travel Checklist and Tips
Julie, the owner of an agency specializing in Europe, shared the 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.
The best part? You create it one time and clients continue to be thankful for the extra resources you're providing to them for all eternity! Win-win.
And heck, we like lots of icing on our cake! So here's some more:
Sending waivers is helpful, but a signature of acknowledgement is your best defense.
Travel attorney Jonathan Howe says that simply sending the waivers is helpful if you ever need to defend yourself, but a signature of acknowledgment is really your best defense. He also recommended sending an acknowledgment 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 JotForm is that they can send auto-emails to you and the client, acknowledging you've received the form.
And you know, we just can't help ourselves. Here are more awesome legal resources for your travel biz:
- Creating online waivers with electronic signatures is a great way to actually get your clients to fill out your waivers. Here's how to do that plus loads of other free travel agent forms (for free).
- If you want more formal advice, we have a list of travel industry lawyers, which includes free legal documents for agencies.
- Lastly, HAR's resources page is great for finding our most popular articles and other travel agents' resources-- check it out!
- Check out Travel Lawyer Mark Pestronk's free legal document templates here
- Here's a 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)
Wow. Thank You!
A huge and humbled thank you to Chun T. Wright who offered her legal expertise in the latest update of this article. We also offer major trophies to the advisors who let us take a peek behind the curtain for their excellent waivers. Jodie Swartz Jones, Nyla Bridges, and Julie Lay Conway shared their various waivers, disclaimers, and checklists for this article.
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, if 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 in January 2013 and was completely updated and revamped on publish date listed. Enjoy!
- Speaking of 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 base knowledge. It does not guarantee protection against lawsuits from clients. All info is accurate to my knowledge but the information given should be fact-checked and never be considered legal advice. ↩