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Travel Related Scams Part 1

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 shortly.



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 agent.

Warning Note

We have Google managed advertising on our web pages, and it seems that the subject of this page sometimes causes advertisements to appear that sometimes may be examples of the type of advertising that we decry on this page!  Please don't consider these advertisements to be supported or endorsed by us......


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 offered.

Anyone can become a travel agent

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 profitable

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 profitable.

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 agency/agent community.

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 travel agent

If you do want to become a travel agent, consider first taking a course at a local community college or online.  The 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 available.

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 agency.

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 first class.

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 websites.

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 real estate.

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 scheme'?

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 distribution.

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 skepticism.


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 agent.

Part one of a new series on travel related scams.  Extra topics to be published shortly.


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Originally published 7 Aug 2009, last update 21 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.




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