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Playing Travel Agent

Playing Travel Agent
by Rudy Maxa for Marketplace

You see the ads in major newspapers and on numerous Web sites: Save money on travel by becoming a travel agent. For several hundred dollars, you can supposedly get discounts at hotels and on airlines.

A business traveler named Andrew deLivron of Pottersville, New York, thought he'd give it a try not long ago. He sent about $260 to a company called Global International Travel. Its web site promised him exclusive access to low airfares on line, huge discounts on hotel rooms, rental cars, luxury cruises as well as upgrades on airlines.

Did Andy want to become a travel agent? No. Like many people who respond to these offers, he just wanted to save money. He said Global told him no problem, that's what most of the people who signed up were interested in. He hoped this would be the ultimate way to snare discounts and deals. But it turns out even with a travel agent's ID number, he didn't get much respect.


He told me he could get better airfares using Expedia or by visiting airlines' web sites. And hotels rarely upgraded him. So before his 30-day trial period was over, he asked for his money back. By the way, Andy bought his membership during a special sale; the normal cost for joining Global is $495.

Now, there are plenty of legitimate travel agents who are self-employed. But they make their money by selling travel to people like you and me. Kelly Monaghan, author of a book on the subject, has a Web site called hometravelagency.com that tells you how to do that.

Would he recommend paying $500 to one of the travel agent card mills in the hopes of getting personal travel discounts?

Monaghan: "No. The ethical questions aside, it doesn't often work and you have to do a lot of traveling before you earn back your investment. And they're the same discounts you can get by joining a travel club for 50 or 60 bucks or simply by being a savvy traveler."

I couldn't put it better myself. Now, legitimate agents do get big discounts when they travel. But there are so many of these card mill operators that hotels and airlines have become reluctant to extend discounts unless they know the particular travel agency is a legit business.

So are these card mills illegal? No. If you pay one of these operations big bucks to call yourself a travel agent, maybe you'll get away with something now and then. But my bet is they'll wind up feeling the way Andy did: That it wasn't worth the money.

The Savvy Traveler on Marketplace

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