If you are just starting out as a travel agent, you may have wondered if you should become certified. Although you do not currently need a travel agent certification to sell travel in the United States, there are a few states that have specific laws pertaining to selling travel.
Even if you do not live in or work with any of the US states that require certification, you may decide to get certified anyway. We say “work with” because even if you do not live in one of the states that require travel agent certification, you will still need to get certified if you ever work with clients who live in any of those states.
Read on to find out all of the information you need to know about getting certified as a travel agent!
What is Travel Agent Certification?
Travel Agent Certification is basically a program with classes you enroll in to learn skills that will help you in your career as a travel agent. At the end of the program, you will take the TAP (Travel Agent Proficiency) Test. Once you pass the test, you’re officially a certified travel agent! Wahoo!
You can get your travel agent certification online. Most programs take around two years or a little less.
Here are some of the best programs in the US you can enroll in to become a certified travel agent:
- The Travel Institute – Self-guided classes. You will have to have been a travel agent for at least a year before you can enroll. It costs $450 and you will have up to 12 months to complete it and pass the test with a score of 70% or higher. You’ll have to continue taking minimal classes (50 credits) a year to maintain your certification.
- ASTA’s VTA Program – Self-guided classes. You will have up to 12 months to complete it. It costs $399 for ASTA (American Society of Travel Advisors) members and $598 for non-members. Before you enroll in the program, you have to make sure you qualify for ASTA membership. You’ll have to renew every 2 years, and the renewal fee is $179.
- Global Travel Professional – Must have 3 years of experience in the travel industry. It costs $350 GBTA members and $450 for non-members. The time you will have to complete the course depends on when the TAP Test is. You’ll select a time frame for the test when you enroll in the program. You will have to renew your certification every three years.
Do travel agents need to be certified?
Each state has different travel agent certification requirements. There are also different requirements depending on whether you are an independent travel agent, work with a host agency, or are an employee of a travel agency.
This is a little complicated, so bear with us!
If you live in and/or work with clients who live in any of these four states, you will need to become a certified travel agent:
These are the four states in which you will absolutely need a Seller of Travel license (SOT). Each state has different requirements depending on which one you or your clients reside in. Let’s break it down:
If you are a travel agent through a host agency and only sell travel directly through the host agency, you will not need to become certified.
Otherwise, if you live or work with clients in California and you do not sell only through a host agency, you will need a SOT. The license specific to California is called the California Seller of Travel (CST). You can register for a CST here, which you will have to renew every year. You will also need to register your travel agent business with the Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation, which costs $275. Lastly, you will need to register for a California state business ID.
Sounds complicated? There are definitely a lot of steps, but don’t let that deter you from becoming a travel agent if you or your clients live in California! We’ll discuss later why becoming a certified travel agent can still be worth it.
If you live or work with clients in Florida, you will need a Florida SOT number, which has to be paid for annually and costs $300 a year, unless you have or are married to someone who served in the military. You will also have to post a Florida Travel Agency Surety Bond, which can range in price from $10,000 to $25,000 depending on your total revenue.
There is one case in which you will not need to be a certified travel agent. If you work with a host agency with a Florida SOT number, have a written contract with the host agency you work for, do not issue travel documents to any clients, and do not work directly with any clients – you do not have to become certified. In that case, you will be able to use the SOT number of the host agency you work for. However, you will also have to fill out this application to become an independent travel sales agent in the state of Florida. You have to pay for the form annually, and it costs $50 a year.
If you or your clients live in Hawaii, you will need an SOT. You can apply for one here. It costs – stay with us here – $215 a year on the even-numbered years and $146 a year on the odd-numbered years. So, if you are considering becoming a travel agent either in or selling trips to Hawaii, it would be cheaper to do so now in 2021 (an odd-numbered year) than it would in 2022 (an even-numbered year).
You will also have to register your business with the state of Hawaii. If you ever sell activities such as boat rides or bus tours to your clients, you will also need an Activity Desk license.
One more thing! To work as an independent travel agent in the state of Hawaii, you will need to have a bank that is located in Hawaii. If you work with a host agency that is not based in Hawaii, and you do not handle the client payment yourself, you can apply for a waiver when you apply for the SOT.
If you or your clients are in Washington, you will have to apply for a travel agent license with the state. You will also need a bank account in Washington that is specifically for your travel business. Similar to the rules in Florida, you will also need to purchase a Surety Bond.
Again, if you do not live or work with clients in California, Florida, Hawaii, or Washington, then you do not have to become a certified travel agent.
Please note that if you or your clients live in Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, or New York, there may be some additional fees to pay and regulations you have to follow:
- Delaware – If you (not your clients) live in Delaware, you will need a “Travel Agent Occupational License,” which is renewed annually and costs $225 a year.
- Illinois – If you take direct payments from your clients, you will need to establish a trust banking account to use for your business.
- Louisiana – If you run a home-based travel agency, you don’t have to do anything special! But, if you work out of an office or storefront, you will have to obtain a retail license.
- Massachusetts – Although there are no fees or licenses required to be a Massachusetts-based travel agent, there are some very specific rules regarding selling travel. You can check those out here.
- New York – Similar to Massachusetts, there are no fees or licenses required to be a travel agent in New York, but there are some specific rules you must follow.
So, should I get certified?
If you don’t live or work with clients who live in one of the four above states, it is not required that you become a certified travel agent. However, you may choose to anyway!
There are some benefits to getting travel agent certification. Although many states don’t absolutely require that you are certified in order to be a travel agent, being certified certainly makes you look more credible. If a client is choosing which travel agent to work with, they will likely go with the one who is certified.
Another reason you may want to become a certified travel agent is that taking a travel agent certification program will teach you skills that will inevitably help you in your career as a travel agent or travel consultant.
You’re thinking, “Wow! Sounds pretty great, why wouldn’t I become a certified travel agent?”
Well, it does take a long time, and it can get pricey, as you’ve seen if you read this whole article.
OK, I want to get certified! How can I do it?
We already went over the travel agent certification requirements for California, Florida, Hawaii and Washington. For any other states, all you have to do is enroll in one of the three programs we listed or find another program that suits you better. Just make sure you meet the program’s requirements!
There are definitely a lot of specific requirements and things to consider when you are deciding if you should become a certified travel agent. Whether you decide to become certified or not, we hope that this article helped you decide the best path for you!