What Is a CLIA Number?
Oh, the pain! Why must there be so many acronyms for our travel agency identification numbers? We've got the ARC, IATA, and CLIA numbers as the main players, what's the difference? Why not just one number and call it the TAID (Travel Agent ID) Number? That, folks, I cannot tell you.
The CLIA Number is issued by Cruise Lines International Association (hence, the acronym). In a nutshell, it's a way for vendors to identify you as a seller of travel.
But I can tell you what a CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) Number is, what it does, and what type of agents would benefit most from it.
A Short History of the CLIA Number:
In the good ol' days, a travel agency's main bread and butter were its airline ticket sales. These days, an ARC number was an absolute necessity for any travel agency. But when travel agent commissions were cut in the late 1990s and the internet came around, many travel agencies started focusing on sources of income beyond airline tickets.
CLIA began issuing industry credentials in 2000.
With the rise of this new type of travel agency—agencies that didn't need an ARC or IATA number—agents began looking for a less expensive way to be recognized by vendors. While cruise lines, tour operators, and other travel suppliers were still paying commissions, hanging on to an ARC accreditation number didn't make sense for agencies that were not booking high volumes of air. For most leisure agents, it was overkill, burning a hole in their pocket.
Enter the star of this post: the CLIA Industry ID Number (which, for brevity, we nickname the CLIA Number.)
CLIA began issuing industry credentials in 2000. Agency owners could transition their old ARC/IATA number into a CLIA number (like keeping your same phone number but switching to a new carrier).
For leisure independent advisors new to the scene, CLIA could issue them a brand-spanking-new CLIA number. Same holds true today.
More affordable and with fewer barriers to entry, CLIA established itself as a viable option for leisure agents who wanted agency credentials to book travel. Currently, CLIA is one of several options for agents who want to get their own travel accreditation (or, in CLIA's case, booking credentials).
What is a CLIA Number?
CLIA numbers are issued by none other than the Cruise Lines International Association (hence, the acronym). In a nutshell, it's a way for vendors to identify you as a seller of travel.
If you aren't issuing airline tickets through the GDS, a CLIA number is a viable alternative.
You can call (or go online) to book; the vendor asks you for your ID number, and then they can pull you up in the system and see all sorts of things about your agency. It serves the same purpose as the ARC or IATA number, it's just issued by another organization and has different barriers to entry and costs associated with it. The next paragraph will cover another important difference between CLIA and ARC/IATA numbers.
Who Accepts CLIA Numbers?
While CLIA focuses on cruises, travel agents can book all types of travel with a CLIA number. The one thing to remember about the CLIA number is that, while it is accepted nearly everywhere, it's NOT accepted by airlines.
The bottom line? If you aren't issuing airline tickets through the GDS, a CLIA number is a viable alternative. Want GDS access to book air?ARC and IATA are must-haves if you're ticketing air-only reservations.
Allow me to elaborate . . .
CLIA number vs. ARC/IATA accreditation Number: How are they different?
There are two primary differences between a CLIA Number and ARC/IATA's accreditation number.
- You cannot book air-ticketing only with a CLIA number: I'm sorry to repeat myself, but I don't want you to be disappointed. The good news is that there are a ton of other ways you can book air without an ARC/IATA accreditation.
- CLIA's uses different terminology: Because of their emphasis on travel agent education and certification, CLIA shies away from using the term "accreditation." However, as my good old fictional friend and Shakespearean heroine, Juliet Capulet, once said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." In this scenario, the CLIA Industry ID number is the rose by another name. While it's not technically called an accreditation, it functions like other travel accreditations such as ARC, IATA, and TRUE. That is, participating vendors recognize CLIA numbers and allow agents to book and receive a commission under that number.
CLIA's Credentialing Requirements:
Technically, there are two tiers of credentials with CLIA. But one is invite-only. This makes it a lot easier if you're new to CLIA. If you're new to CLIA and want a CLIA number, there's really only one option for you: the Travel Agency Membership. If you are an umbrella organization, such as a host agency or a storefront travel agency with employees, this is your entry point.
Here’s a big-picture look at what they offer in terms of credentials:
CLIA's Travel Agency Membership (TAM)
1. Who is it for? The TAM is for host agencies or storefront travel agents who want their own CLIA number. It's best for leisure/cruise agencies that do not book a high volume of air-only travel. (Psst! If you're booking under your host, check out CLIA's Individual Agent Membership).
2. TAM Eligibility Requirements: The eligibility requirements for CLIA’s TAM Membership are relatively simple; You need to be a travel agency in good standing with state and federal regulations.
3. TAM Cost & Renewal: A TAM membership is $399 annually, and includes one free Individual Agent Membership (IAM) for the agency owner, manager, or other designees (a $119 value).
4. How do I apply? Applying for a TAM is simple. You fill out an application (see below) and then CLIA follows up with a few other fun steps for you to take (such as signing an attestation form that you're not a rule-breaker when it comes to travel agency regulations). Below is a sample TAM application. Take a peek, and you'll be über prepared to apply.
CLIA's Premier Agency Membership (PAM)
- Who is it for? I'm going to keep this section pretty short. Why? Because a.) PAM is invite only which leads me to b.) if you qualify for CLIA's PAM membership, you probably already know.
- PAM Eligibility Requirements: Eligibility requirements are internal info only. That's right, TOP SECRET! But here's one thing I can tell you, CLIA does not allow MLM travel agencies to join as a PAM. (I'll see if I can ramp up my spy efforts for our next update!)
- PAM Cost & Renewal: $5,000 annually.
- How do I apply? You don't! That was easy :)
You can take a look here to see which agencies have a Premier Membership. As a part of their PAM perks, these are the agencies that offer their ICs a $50 discount on an IAM Membership. So this list is a good tool if you know you’re all in on CLIA and you’re looking for a host agency. Just check out CLIA’s host agency Premier Members that are listed and reviewed on our site.
Now you may have noticed that I've been throwing around another membership term: IAM. But I wanted to save it for last. Read on to find out why . . .
What is CLIA's Individual Agent Membership (IAM)?
Since this entire article is essentially about the CLIA number, I'm going to end with the membership level that is not a booking credential, CLIA's Individual Agent Membership (IAM).
I feel so strongly about emphasizing this that I'm going to put it in bright orange text and probably repeat myself a few times. Why? Because I don't want anyone to be bummed out if they apply for an IAM, and realize that it doesn't come along with a CLIA number. (I am not in the business of shattering dreams!)
CLIA's Individual Agent Membership is not a booking credential.
So what is CLIA's Individual Agent Membership? Here's the lowdown:
- (Enter refrain) The IAM is NOT a booking credential The IAM offers you access to many resources, but it does not provide you with a CLIA number.
- If you want to access CLIA's professional development and certification programs, you must have an IAM.
- In order to get an IAM you must be affiliated with a CLIA Travel Agency Member (TAM) or Premier Agency Member (PAM). What this means is that you need to either be employed by a travel agency or an IC with a host agency is credentialed by CLIA.
- Your CLIA-affiliated agency is the entry point for an Individual Agent Membership. If you want in, your host or travel agency must give you the thumbs up. While CLIA generally recommends their accredited agencies require annual cruise commissions of $5,000, it's really up to the appointing agency on how/if you're eligible. So give them a holler!
- You must have an IAM to access CLIA's professional development and certifications. This is a biggie because beyond serving as a booking credential, CLIA is serious about their education and certification. If you want in on it, you gotta have an IAM.
- You must have an IAM to be listed on CLIA's Agent Finder. I'll get into it more later, but if you want to be listed on CLIA's agent finder ($19.99 per year), you must have an IAM.
- You must have an IAM to attain an EMBARC ID (formerly known as "CLIA Card") There are more deets on the EMBARC ID soon. Sit tight!
- You do not need an IAM to use your host or agency's CLIA number: You can still book with your agency's CLIA number even if you don't have an IAM. You just can't access any of the stuff mentioned above (along with other perks like their coupon book).
CLIA's IAM is the entryway to their programming, especially their professional development and certification programs. Here's how you can get in on the IAM goodness:
CLIA's Individual Agency Membership (IAM)
- Who is it for? The IAM is for advisors who are a travel agent IC or employee with a CLIA-credentialed agency (aka, has a CLIA number). This is a must for agents who want to access CLIA certification programs and/or get an EMBARC ID.
- IAM Eligibility Requirements: Your participation in IAM is at the discretion of your CLIA-credentialed agency. So if this is a route you're interested in, check to start with your host or employer.
- IAM Cost & Renewal: IAM members are required to take CLIA's State of the Industry course (which is at no cost) to maintain membership status. (This course will pop up in your portal once you sign on.) In terms of renewal costs, it depends:
- If you belong to one of CLIA's Premier Agency Members, the cost is $69 annually.
- If you belong to one of CLIA's Travel Agency Members, the cost is $119 annually.
- How do I apply? There are two steps to applying for your IAM. 1.) Check with your CLIA-credentialed agency to ensure you qualify. 2.) Submit your IAM application (sample below)
What Is an EMBARC ID (Formerly CLIA Card)?
The CLIA Card reached Prince-level acclaim when it retired that name to embrace a new identity: The EMBARC ID.
Issued by CLIA, the EMBARC ID (formerly known as, "CLIA card") is exactly that, an ID. It's a way for you to physically identify yourself to vendors as an agent of a CLIA-credentialed agency. In easy-to-understand terms, it's a widely accepted (and respected) travel agent ID card.
To be eligible for an EMBARC ID, your agency must, at the very least, have a Travel Agency Membership.
Cost for the EMBARC ID card is included with an IAM membership. If you lose it and a digital EMBARC ID doesn’t quite get you through the day, it'll run you $29 to replace it. EMBARC IDs are most often used for proof that you're a legitimate seller of travel for industry events such as training, seminars at sea, or FAM (familiarization) trips.
Do I need My Own CLIA Number to Book with CLIA's Suppliers?
Maybe you've determined that ARC and/or IATA are overkill. And maybe you've also determined that you want to book travel with a CLIA number, but that you don't want to apply for your own. How can you go about using a CLIA number without getting your own?
You don't need any level of membership to book CLIA's suppliers, so long as you're an IC or employee with a CLIA-credentialed agency.
You don't necessarily need to get your own CLIA number . . . not even an Individual Agent Membership. You can always go under an umbrella organization like a host agency. If you're working with a host agency, you can book under their CLIA number without incurring the costs associated with obtaining your own CLIA number or IAM.
This is beneficial for travel agents (both home-based agents and storefront agencies) because your revenue is combined with that of other agents under that host's CLIA number. Typically, this leads to higher tiers of commission you wouldn't be able to access on your own.
While you can always get your own CLIA number, if you can make more in commission with a host agency, getting your own CLIA number doesn't make sense. You don't need any level of membership to book CLIA's suppliers, so long as you're affiliated with (or employed by) a CLIA-credentialed host or travel agency.
Need More Help Choosing a Host? We've Got You Covered.
The most important thing you can do to find the best host travel agency? Know what you want before you start looking. You may also find our starting a travel agency or choosing travel agency names articles helpful as you get your home travel business started.
And lastly, it is a big decision but it shouldn't be keeping you up at night if you're doing your due diligence. While you may think there is one best host agency for you, the reality is there are many great host agencies out there. If you do the proper research, chances are there are quite a few host agencies that you'd be very happy with!
If you're wanting more help finding your forever host and getting your agency off the ground, check out our new course, "The Complete Guide to Starting a Travel Agency."
Check out HAR's 3 different 7 Day Setup course options. The courses are written and facilitated by yours truly (Steph!) and Bridget Lee, a professional educator with deep roots in the travel industry. Maybe you notice a last name similarity? We happen to be sisters! We had a blast teaching the course, we think you'll love taking it too. With a free mini course and/or free trial of HAR's Accelerator All-Access Pass, there's a little something for everyone! Check out your options here!
It's hard to believe, but we have even more information about CLIA and other accreditations/crediting agencies on our site. Don't believe me? Click below and behold:
Are things still unclear? No worries, drop your questions (or feedback) in the comments below. For those social fanatics, here's where you can find me online to chat things over: Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. I've worked in the industry for quite a few years and specialized in helping agents start and grow their home-based travel agencies. If you're one of them, I'm here to help out!
A huge thank you to the CLIA crew: Charles Sylvia, VP, Industry, and Trade Relations; Danielle Haney, VP, Industry, and Trade Relations; Justin Wood, Membership marketing in North America; and Stephani McDow, Senior Director, Professional Development & Trade Programs for taking the time to chat with me and for sharing resources about their credentialing programs!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published by Steph Lee on March 23, 2012 and was updated with current information on publish date listed above.