What Home-Based Agents Need To Know About IATA Numbers


“When I become a home-based agent, will I get my IATAN card?”

“How do I get an IATA number?”

In spite of covering this matter on my website, I get a steady stream of such questions. I try to answer them but some people still don’t seem to “get it.” One wrote back, “So if I buy your course, will I get my IATAN card with it?”


So let me try to clear up what I believe is a basic misunderstanding about how this all works.

The IATA Number and Selling Travel

An IATA number (sometimes referred to as an ARC number or an ARC/IATA number, just to confuse you) is simply a unique identifying number that distinguishes one accredited travel agency from another. Most importantly, an IATA number lets an agency sell airline tickets. There are other travel products that, technically, an agency can sell without an IATA number but the ARC/IATA identifier system has become so well-established that most suppliers find it convenient to track their agency vendors by IATA number. It’s also a convenient way for a supplier to get a rough idea of who is a “serious” travel agent and who isn’t. Of course, there are a great many travel agents without ARC or IATA numbers who are highly serious and impeccably professional, but that’s another issue.

The key to the home-based travel revolution is that it is possible to have the benefits of an IATA number (that is, be able to sell travel products) without having an IATA number (and the storefront premises, bonding, overhead, reporting burdens, and all the other things that go along with it).

You do that by forming a relationship with a “host agency” as an independent contractor. In effect (although this is not the legal term for it), you are “renting” the host agency’s IATA number and using it to make bookings with suppliers. The “rent” you pay is a portion of the commission earned on all products you, the independent contractor, sell using the host agency’s IATA number. Many host agencies also charge an upfront fee to new independent contractors; some also assess annual “membership” fees.

In other words, you don’t actually “have” an IATA number in this arrangement but you have the use of one, which is in many important respects a better deal. As I just mentioned, by using a host agency’s ARC/IATA number you avoid a lot of expensive overhead. And if you follow the advice I give in my home study course, you will pay only a modest “rent” in the form of the host agency’s share of the commission. It’s a real win/win situation. And, as a completely independent contractor (with the accent on “independent”), you can deal directly with any supplier that is willing to deal directly with you – another topic covered in the course.

To deal directly with suppliers yourself, you will need your own IATA number — or something very much like it.  A number of new options give you a number that takes the place of the “pseudo-ARC numbers” that have long been given to independent non-ARC agents by suppliers. (These new options, as well as pseudo-ARC numbers are discussed in the home-study course.)

These “new” numbers are not quite the same as the ARC/IATA number that the storefront travel agency has. For starters, you can’t use most of these numbers to book airline tickets; for that you still need the industrial strength ARC-IATA number of your host agency. Note: Not all host agencies have the ability to sell airline tickets! If this is important to you, make sure the host you are investigating actually has the capability to sell air before you enter into a business relation with them!

Does getting your own “IATA” number make sense for you? It’s hard to tell. In theory, it makes it easier for you to establish direct relationships with suppliers, but I have been showing home-based agents how to do that for years. It may turn out that suppliers will prefer these IATA-like identifying numbers over the pseudo numbers (often composed of the agent’s phone number) that they used in the past. Time will tell.

Another reason to get your own IATA number

Once you get your own IATA number (or its functional equivalent), you are more than just a travel agent who can deal directly with suppliers. Your are a travel agency!

That means you can do everything a “real” travel agency can do (except, perhaps, for selling airline tickets). You have commercial premises. You can hire agents whom you pay by either salary or commission. You have form relationships with independent contractors, to whom you pay commissions when they make a booking. In short, you can become a host agency! Several people I have trained have taken this major step.

Is it for you? I can’t say, obviously, but I can tell you that it is possible. And I can guide you on your way.

The IATA Number, the IATAN Card, and Travel Agent ID

Unlike the IATA number, the IATAN card is not used to book travel. Instead, it is a little laminated plastic ID card with your picture on it that, in theory, “proves” that you are a travel agent. Also, in theory again, the IATAN card is an open sesame to all sorts of wonderful travel benefits.

True, some fam trips are open only to those with IATAN cards. But the best fam trips go to people who produce bookings. And if you’re producing bookings for a tour operator or cruise line and follow the simple strategies I provide in the course for raising your profile with your suppliers, then you will get your fair share of fams.

The IATAN card has been oversold, in my opinion, and many newcomers to the industry have exaggerated expectations about what it will get them. Yes, it can gain you perks and open doors, but you have to have some industry experience before you will be able to distinguish truly good deals from those any savvy travel shopper could get.

I also think many prospective home-based travel agents confuse the IATAN card with those “travel agent ID cards” that you get when you sign up with some host agencies. This is especially true of so-called referral agencies (known pejoratively within the industry as “card mills”). But it is also true of some other types of host agencies. The fact is anyone can issue an ID card that says someone is one of their “associate agents,” “independent agents,” or “members.” And it’s probably no accident that many travel agencies who do issue such cards design them to look quite a bit like an IATAN card.

Like it or not, the fact is that these cards can sometimes get their owners perks similar to those available to owners of the IATAN card. That is less true today than it was several years ago. The supplier community has done a good job of educating its employees to recognize and distinguish among the bewildering array of “ID cards” floating around out there. Still, it happens.

Unless you find an unscrupulous agency owner (and there are no doubt a few out there), you cannot simply “buy” an IATAN card. You have to EARN it. How? By selling travel, of course. After you have been in the business six months and can document annual commission income of $5,000, you are eligible for the IATAN card. Any agent who is serious about making a go of being a travel agent will have no trouble reaching this modest level of earnings. If you are funneling all your business through a single host agency, it will be easy to document your earnings level. If you are doing a lot of business directly with suppliers, documenting your earnings level can be a bit trickier, but it can be done.

Once you qualify, you will have to pay a fee. (How do you think IATAN makes its money? And why do you think they make such a fuss about theirs being the only “real” travel agent ID?) Fortunately, the fee is modest.

Some Final Thoughts on IATA Numbers

To sum up, then, an ARC/IATA number identifies a travel agency. If you want to “get” one all to yourself, one that will let you book every kind of travel product including air, you have to set up a storefront agency. That’ll set you back anywhere from $75,000 to $150,000. A newer breed of IATA number identifies you as a non-ARC agent, but will not allow you to book air and is not absolutely needed (so far) for booking non-ARC products. If you’d simply like to “use” someone else’s IATA number to collect commissions on travel products you otherwise would not be able to sell, that is easy to arrange by hooking up with a host agency as outlined above.

The IATAN card is a form of industry identification that requires meeting certain minimal standards of industry longevity and earnings. It is important to some, meaningless to others. If having an IATAN card will boost your ego and you qualify, go for it. Otherwise concentrate on selling travel and building your business. The longer you are in the industry, the savvier you will become about how the perks – the real perks – work. Once you’re a seasoned pro, you’ll be in a better position to know if an IATAN card makes sense – FOR YOU!

If you are serious about being a home-based travel agent, on a part-time or full-time basis, you owe it to yourself to make the modest investment in learning how the business really works. My home study course will teach you how to always cut the best deal for yourself for the least amount of money at every stage of your travel agent career. Even if you only want to learn enough about the travel industry to handle travel arrangements for your friends and family, my course will pay for itself with your first booking.

Plus, it comes with the best money back guarantee in the business, so you have zero risk. To learn more about the course, click on the image below.

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All of this is explained in great detail in our home study course. To learn more, CLICK HERE.