What Is an ARC Number?

April 26, 2024

If you're new to the travel industry, or have even dabbled in a search of how to become a travel agent, the amount of accreditation numbers we have that exist in a cryptic acronym form is a bit disturbing. CLIA, IATAN, ARC, and more ... blech!

But you've got your eye on a certain travel agency accreditation number, an ARC. So let's fill you in on what an ARC number is!

What Is an ARC Number?

An ARC number is a unique identifier assigned to travel agencies by the Airline Reporting Corporation. This number allows agencies to book airline tickets and report sales.

What is an ARC (Airline Reporting Corporation) number? An ARC number is a unique identifier assigned to travel agencies by the Airline Reporting Corporation. This number allows agencies to book airline tickets and report sales. In broad terms, you can think of an ARC number as a social security number for a travel agency so they can be identified by vendors.

Like a social security, it's not a number you want to share to the public at large (like putting it in your email signature or on your agency's website), yet you give it out to an uncomfortably large amount of people.

Who Issues an ARC Number?

ARC (Airlines Reporting Corporation) is something specific to travel agencies in the United States. Their role in the travel industry is a little hard to explain to newbies, but they are a financial clearinghouse for the airlines. They act as an intermediary between travel agencies and the airlines.

Whenever a travel agency books a ticket in the GDS system (global distribution system), ARC is involved in handling that money and sending that over to the airlines. If you're an agency outside the United States, ARC doesn't act as an intermediary.

ARC issues an number to accredited travel agencies, which is called—you guessed it—an ARC number. Here's the thing about the ARC number. You need to have an IATA number with it if you're in the US in order to book airlines tickets in the GDS system.

Aye yai yai, you say! Now you have to remember TWO accreditations numbers?

Nope. The ARC and IATA number are (luckily) going to be the same number. It's always an 8-digit number and can be used interchangeably.

What Does an ARC Number Allow a Travel Agency to Do?

Having an ARC number allows travel agencies to issue airline tickets in the GDS system. But the use of an ARC number extends beyond air tickets—travel agencies can an ARC number to book everything from a hotel to a cruise ship.

When it comes to booking travel, ARC numbers are the Visa cards of travel accreditations. They're accepted by every type of vendor/supplier that works with travel agents.

But here's a little secret—that's not always the case with some of the travel agency ID numbers out there. For instance, CLIA agencies that have a CLIA number (without ARC accreditation) cannot issue airline tickets.

ARC is unique in that while it's accepted by all types of suppliers (preferred suppliers or not), it is a MUST HAVE to ticket airline tickets in the GDS system.

Who Uses an ARC Number?

Short answer: In the days of yore, an ARC number was a necessity for all US-based travel agencies.

Nowadays, travel agencies that use the GDS have an ARC number, but non-GDS agencies—which is now the vast majority of travel agencies—may use a variety of other accreditation numbers including: CLIA, VTC (through ARC),IATANnon-ticketing entity, or a TRUE accreditation.

Back in the day, an ARC number was an absolute necessity if you had a travel agency. This is not the case today.

Long answer: Back in the day, an ARC number was an absolute necessity if you had a travel agency. This is not the case today.

The number of ARC-accredited travel agencies has plummeted. In 1995, ARC had 47,000 accredited travel agency locations with $73 billion in sales. As of March 2024, the number of travel agencies holding an ARC number was 10,357.1.

While there is no question number of ARC accredited agencies has drastically dropped from its heyday, there is a nuance to that lower number.

Don't quote me on the exact date this happened, but travel agencies previously had to have an ARC number for every branch and satellite ticketing printer. Nowadays, you can have one ARC number regardless of the number of branches or satellite printers.

What are other reasons for the lower numbers?

  1. Many agencies that previously needed the GDS have dropped their accreditation due to its expense and the disappearance of airline commissions.
  2. Some agencies completely stopped issuing airline tickets and opted for other accreditations.
  3. Some shut up shop.
  4. Some agencies let their accreditation lapse and ticket under theirhost agency'saccreditation number.

The Complexities of ARC Accreditation: Not for Everyone

ARC numbers are not needed for every type of travel agency.

If you're a travel agency that only books leisure travel, you don't need an ARC number.

For those agencies that have fewer air ticket sales and know the GDS, having your own ARC number is expensive, time-intensive, and can be risky. There are fees and an ARC report that needs to be filed and reconciled weekly. (Remember that part about them being a financial clearing house?)

You also run the risk of fraudulent ticketing activity under your ARC accreditation that you would be held financially responsible for. The GDS is a prime target for fraudsters and can rake up tens of thousands of dollars in fraudulent tickets that you'd be responsible for.

What's Involved with Getting an ARC Number?

Due to the financial risk involved with booking airline tickets, ARC requires an in-depth screening process (including an on-site visit and a financial survey).

Due to the financial risk involved with booking airline tickets, ARC requires an in-depth screening process.

You will also need to pass an exam.

At the time of 2024,ARC accreditation has a $2,300 application fee to start up and a $276 annual renewal fee2.

Did we mention that there is a minimum $20,000 bond, letter of credit, or cash deposit you have to put up?

We're not hating on the fees . . . airline fraud is rampant and we'd take preventative measures too. What we are saying is you need to be ready to dole out some cash if you want an ARC number.

Positives of Having an ARC Number

Despite everything above, there are many positives to having your own ARC number. I won't go in-depth since our target audience is travel agencies aligned with host agencies and I believe there are very few of my readers that this would be a good idea for.

But, lest someone call me biased, I'll give a positive. For agencies with high segment counts in the GDS (global distribution system), there are financial incentives from both the GDS and the airlines for your sales. There's a reason the remaining ARC accredited agencies' sales are growing larger and larger!

Who is a Good Fit for an ARC Number?

For corporate agencies or travel management companies (TMCs), the GDS is a must-have. Which means an ARC number is a must-have. If that's an area you're looking to explore, you can read up more on becoming a corporate travel agent here.

Another option is taking a listen to our podcast interview with some advisors focused on booking air/corporate:

He sells $775k/yr worth of air, charging some serious fees:

She books the air/hotel for bands during their world tours:

She books meetings and corporate travel for companies:

ARC's Application Process and Eligibility Requirements, in Detail

Want a little more? Here's an in depth resource on ARC's eligibility requirements and applications costs. It's also includes a sample application and comparison chart of ARC's catalog of accreditation options.

Travel Agency Accreditation Options


IATA, CLIA, ARC, and TRUE are all accreditation numbers with subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, differences. Hopefully, we've helped you navigate the murky waters of travel ID numbers!

If you still don't feel up to speed, check out our 7 Day Set Up Accelerator course to help you start your agency. We have years of experience helping thousands of travel advisors get started and we'd love to help you get started too!

7DS Accelerator

*Editor’s Note: This post was originally published March 21, 2012, and was completely updated and revamped on publish date listed above.


  1. Source: ARC Statistics (accessed 3/24/2024)
  2. Source: ARC's Fee Schedule
About the Author
Steph Lee - Host Agency Reviews

Steph Lee

Steph grew up in the travel industry, helping on and off with her mom's homebased travel agency. She has worked with thousands of agents in her role as a former host agency director before leaving in 2012 to start HAR. She's insatiably curious, loves her pups Fennec and Orion, and -- in case you haven't noticed -- is pretty quirky and free-spirited.

If you’re looking for Steph, she leaves a trace where ever she goes! You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn (her fav) and Pinterest as 'iamstephly'. 🙂 You can also catch her on her Substack, Bumblin' Around, where she writes on things outside the world of HAR.