Travel Related Scams
Beware of offers enticing
you to become a travel agent yourself
Remember that anything that seems 'too good to be true'
is probably exactly that.
Part one of a new
series on tourist scams. Extra articles to be added
The 'glamour of travel' - such
as it now is - sometimes is reflected in a perception that being
a travel agent is a good job or an interesting job or a well
paid job or a job full of free travel benefits.
These perceptions are almost
all completely wrong. Don't fall for any type of deal that
promises you generous rewards of any type by becoming a travel
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One of the more popular 'get
rich' quick schemes relates to becoming a travel agent, with
promises variously of your earning a fabulous income in return
for very little work, and/or (usually and!) getting to enjoy
unlimited ultra-generous free travel benefits and upgrades.
This is, alas, largely
nonsense. Please read on for some background information
on the travel agent/agency industry, and the scams that are
Anyone can become a travel
The United States is unusual
in not requiring any type of formal qualification programs as a
pre-requisite for a person seeking to work as a travel agent,
and/or to open a travel agency.
Furthermore, many agencies
have a very inclusionary approach to being a 'host agency' and
who they will accept as an 'outside' agent - ie, someone who
works on a self-employed, commission-only basis, probably part
time, and probably using little or no agency resources.
These factors provide a
basis from which some companies have chosen to sell 'you can
become a travel agent' type training packages/programs, offering
a combination of training and also 'employment' after the
training. They offer a lot of enticing promises, but
usually the reality falls very far short of the implied outcomes
one is being sold.
Being a travel agent is seldom
The good news is that a very
few travel agencies and agents have very profitable businesses
and high level earnings, sometimes over $10,000 a month.
But these are very special
one-off situations. The bad news is that most travel
agents earn very low incomes in return for hard long hours of
work, and most travel agencies are at best only marginally
Don't expect any benefits or
perks or short-cuts to success
I've been a travel agent for
over a decade, and a travel agency owner for most of that time.
My agency was fully accredited with all travel accrediting
bodies, and I also had a travel wholesale company that
specialized in selling travel to travel agencies.
I've seen just about every
side of the business of selling travel - as an agent, as an
owner, and as a supplier selling to and through the travel
There's no sure-fire easy
recipe for success in the travel industry. Anyone who
suggests to the contrary is almost certainly pushing a scam.
Here are the three major
types of scams to do with encouraging people to become a travel
agent. The two consistent aspects of all of them is that
they promise you unrealistic income or benefits, and they
require you to pay money up-front.
The best way to become a
If you do want to become a
travel agent, consider first taking a course at a local
community college or online.
Travel Institute is the most reputable provider of travel
training, here's a
page with other presumably vetted training providers.
If you want to supplement
general travel agent learning with
specialized destination knowledge, first enquire of the relevant
tourist promotion authority about the training that might be
Another good way to become a
travel agent, either instead of or as well as some formal
training, is to offer to intern, for free, at a local travel
Become a Travel Agent and Get
Free Travel - Scam!
Back in the 'good old days'
it is true that travel agents got a lot of free and/or reduced
rate travel and/or upgrades. But this is stretching back
into the early 1980s and further back. Indeed, in a less
sophisticated era, a travel agent could simply go to an airport,
show their business card, and be invited onto just about any
flight they wished to take, free of charge, and probably in
But that was then.
This is now - decades later. The truth these days is
massively less appealing. I've regularly seen, in the last
decade or two, travel items being sold as 'special travel agent
only deals' that were more expensive than what a normal traveler
would pay for the same thing. Even worse, these
travel agent only special deals would often be space available,
and giving no frequent flier/guest credits, and with none of
the other benefits that the 'full priced' product includes.
Nastiest of all, the staff would often treat you abysmally on
the basis 'you've paid very little for your travel, so I'm going
to give you very little in return'.
Hotel rooms, international
package tours, and airfares - I've seen all these things being
sold at above market rates to gullible travel agents.
Now, you might wonder - what
sort of travel agent would be as stupid as to pay more than the
lowest available rate for any sort of travel, particularly when
they're buying it for themselves? The answer to that
question is simple - travel agents who have spent typically
about $500 to get a 'training course' on how to become a travel
agent, and an 'Official ID Card' (which is absolutely not
official), with the promise being that the person who has spent
the money can then use their official ID to get discounted
and/or free and/or upgraded travel benefits for themselves.
Ask any 'real' travel agent
- the only type of good-deal discounted travel opportunities
which remain these days tend to be ones which you have to earn.
If you produce a lot of business for an airline, or a hotel, or
a tour operator, then you'll probably get discounted or free
travel from them for your own personal use. But if you
want something from a travel company you've never given business
to, your chances of getting a special deal are low to zero.
The only possible exception
to this is sometimes cruises. But to get a discounted
cruise you'll need to be very flexible in your travel plans to
to be able to travel at short notice. And even then
there's no guarantee you'll get a better deal than the deals
which can be found on some of the internet discounted cruise
As for the Official ID card
thing, the only type of official ID card that counts is an IATA/IATAN
ID, and the importance of that is dwindling these days anyway.
All other IDs are less widely accepted/respected, and the fancy
sounding ID card being offered by the company offering you the
$500 program is almost certainly completely useless.
Become a Travel Agent and Makes
Lots of Money - Scam!
A related scam - or possibly
included with the 'travel for free' promises mentioned above is
the suggestion that you can become a travel agent, you can work
for yourself, hours to suit, and make great amounts of money
selling travel to friends, family, and anyone/everyone else.
This is colossally not true.
While it is true that the 'standard' commission on selling many
travel items is 10%, and it is also true that commissions can
sometimes stretch up to 20% or so, many things are uncommissionable (eg most air fares) and many other things pay
less than 10%.
Worse still, most of the
time, you'll have to work through a 'host agency' - a 'real'
travel company who actually has the relationships with the
travel supplier companies. This host agency will want some
share of the commissions you make - perhaps they will want a one
half share, and perhaps they might even want more.
Across the board full time travel agents
usually do not earn good
money. They work long and hard for small commissions, and
while you as a traveler might see them making money when you go
and buy travel from them, you don't see all the 'behind the
scenes' work they've done on your behalf to earn that money, and
neither do you see all the times they spend a lot of time on a
booking which never becomes a commission-earning sale.
It is the same sort of thing
with realtors - while in theory, a realtor could earn a huge
annual salary, and in truth a very few do; in reality, most
realtors earn very modest incomes and many realtors change to
another line of employment after only a short time trying out
In both cases there are some
exceptional agents who do very well. But these are the
exception rather than the rule, and they are agents who have
ended up differentiating themselves in some key way from all the
other travel agents out there.
If you want to become a
travel agent, you might be able to make good money if you have a
specific travel specialty you can sell, and/or a special group
of people you can sell to. But these are skills/situations
you already possess. If you're an 'ordinary person'
wanting to become an ordinary agent, you're likely to earn a
below-ordinary income doing so.
Become a Travel Agent then Make
Others Also Become Travel Agents - Scam!
Can you say 'pyramid
I don't know of a single
legitimate travel business that involves multi-level-marketing,
because it is just too inefficient. Travel margins are
always razor thin, neither travel purchasers nor travel
suppliers want to get involved with lengthy chains of
You should be working
directly for a travel agency, or working for yourself and
dealing directly with travel suppliers. But you should not
be working for some other middleman, and it makes no sense, in
turn, for you to have other middle men working for you.
Treat any and all such business plans with a great deal of
Beware of offers to make you
a travel agent in return for you paying an up-front fee.
Such arrangements will most likely lead to a major
disappointment, because, in reality, there are very few good and
usable travel benefits open to travel agents these days, and
very little money to be made as an ordinary regular travel
Part one of a new
series on travel related scams. Extra topics to be
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7 Aug 2009, last update
15 Oct 2013
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.