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Travelers' Aid

Is Your Travel Agent Legit?
November 20, 1999

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It's not easy being a travel agent these days -- airlines are cutting their commissions, it's becoming simpler to book travel online and there are people actually impersonating them -- no joking. Ads have been running in national newspapers for quite some time now saying that for 500 or so bucks, and no professional training, you can become a travel agent and enjoy all the wonderful benefits and perks that they do -- like discounts on hotel rooms, rental cars and airline tickets. To find out if this was true I dialed up Robin Crandall. She's the Marketing Manager with the Institute of Certified Travel Agents or ICTA in Wellesley, Massachusetts. She told me it is indeed possible to pay your money and get a card saying your a travel agent, which then allows you to enjoy some of the perks I mentioned.

So how do you know you're not dealing with a fly-by-night operation or someone who's just in it for the perks? We called someone who we know is a real honest-to-goodness travel agent to find out. Ellen Castleman is part owner of Pleasure Travel in Los Angeles. She agrees with Robin that you should look for the ASTA or ICTA logos on the travel agent's card. She also told me how one ought to go about finding the right -- and qualified -- agent for a trip.

Ellen may be right about there being no substitute for experience, but that hasn't stopped throngs of folks from forsaking travel agents altogether. A new study on the travel industry conducted by New York research company PhoCusWright says that online booking is up 80 percent this year to 11 million people. It's just one more problem for travel agents to face, but one that Robin Crandall with the Institute of Certified Travel Agents isn't too worried about.

Several major airline carriers have announced they will combine forces and launch a Web site allowing people to book flights online. The American Society of Travel Agents called the collaboration an "unholy alliance" seeking, in part, to get travel agents out of the way. It's not yet known if the group will take any action against the airlines.

Savvy Resources for Travel Agents:

  • You can find out more about travel agents by going to the Institute of Certified Travel Agents (ICTA) at http://www.icta.com. There you'll find a list of certified travel agents in your area. The site also lets you in on how you can train to become a travel agent.

  • The American Society of Travel Agents is a helpful resource too. Go to http://www.astanet.com. ASTA is always monitoring the travel agent industry for scams and "fly-by-night" organizations.

  • We talked with Ellen Castleman with Pleasure Travel in Los Angeles about what you should expect from a travel agent. She's available at 310-207-1101.


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