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How To
How to Become a Travel Agent
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AnnaMarie Houlis
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Journalist & travel blogger
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Building a career as a travel agent can be a fun and lucrative. You'll have the opportunity to make money while traveling and helping clients' to travel, too. The travel industry is ever evolving, as is technology, which can make a career as a travel agent an exciting one, as well.

Here's everything you need to know about what travel agents do, how much they can earn and how to become a travel agent yourself — from schooling to certifications.

What Is a Travel Agent?

Planning trips isn't easy for everyone out there; planning a vacation or a long-term trip can be time-consuming and complicated for those who don't know where to look for flights, how to find accommodation (or in what neighborhoods to even stay), and what to do on their trips. With a wealth of information on the internet and a million booking sites with competing fares, booking and organizing travel can quickly become overwhelming.

Sometimes, it's easier to just pass over the wheel to, say, a travel agent.

Travel agents simplify the travel booking and planning process for clients by booking flights, cruises, rental cars and hotels, all while also providing consulting services and travel packages, and handling any mix-ups in plans such as flight cancelations. Travel agents can do this better than the common consumer because they have access to real-time variable data (such as on booking websites) that consumers may not be able to see. 

"Agents cater to a wide demographic, serving both individuals and corporations," according to Sokanu, a career test site. "They may also concentrate in a special segment of the field; many agents specialize in leisure travel, business trips or location-specific journeys to Europe, Africa or Asia... In order to perform the required research for their jobs, travel agents keep up with travel magazines, books, journals and online travel publications. In some instances, agents will travel domestically or abroad to obtain first-hand experience of select destinations, and then relay that information to their clients."

What Are a Travel Agent's Typical Tasks?

A travel agent typically takes on the following tasks:

  • Respond to incoming travel queries
  • Meet with clients to discuss travel goals
  • Conduct research on travel trends, which sometimes entails traveling to sites themselves
  • Customize itineraries (including transportation and accommodation) for clients
  • Book transportation, accommodation and activities for clients
  • Draft service contracts for group travel
  • Provide consultations and support for clients

So how do travel agents make their money? In short, they make their money by traveling and researching travel trends to help clients travel.

How Much Does a Travel Agent Earn?

How much do travel agents make? A travel agent can make different amounts of money depending on the company for which they work and the clients with whom they're working. For example, a travel agent helping families book travel might not earn as much as a travel agent helping big corporations book travel.

That's because agents typically make their money by earning commissions for booking these arrangements from the providers themselves. If it's a family of four booking a tour or a company of 30, they'll make more money. Likewise, a family might not have the same money that a corporation may have to spend on travel, and since travel agents typically make commissions in the form of cuts, they can earn more by booking more individuals on more expensive tours in in more expensive hotels, for example.

That said, the average travel agent salary, regardless of clientele, is $36,535, according to PayScale. 

How Much Does a Travel Agent Actually Travel?

A travel agent typically works out of an office or remotely online, but some travel agents do travel. 

"[Travel agents] often get invited for familiarization trips paid for by hotels and destinations so they can learn and become better-informed travel agents," according to a response on Quora. "They usually travel three to six times a year, and some travel agents travel with their groups so everything goes smoothly during the trip."

That said, some travel agents running their own companies don't have the time to travel themselves.

“When people hear that I’m a travel agent they often think that I travel all the time, and for free,” Alan Rosenbaum, franchise owner and vacation specialist with Dream Vacations in Johns Creek, Georgia told Travel Pulse “Unfortunately, neither is true. I’m running a business, not a personal vacation service, and I travel when I have the time and I can afford it. My favorite vacation is a cruise, so that’s what I do most.”

Rosenbaum explained to Travel Pulse that at least once a year he travels for his company conference aboard a ship, and he also tries to fit in one more cruise during the year. But, ultimately, he's running his own show with little time to be jet setting around the world.

How Do You Become a Travel Agent?

Do you need a license to be a travel agent? If not, what do you have to do to become a travel agent?

To become a travel agent, you don't need a ton of educational experience. What you do need, however, is an aptitude for customer service, general travel knowledge (and a willingness to learn more) and computer skills.

While you don't need to have a certification, it can help. And you can become a certified travel agent by visiting organization's like The Travel Institute to obtain your Certified Travel Associate (CTA) certification, which is the very minimum professional certification a travel agent can attain. You can get this after 18 months of travel industry experience, according to Travel Leaders of Tomorrow. You cannot get this certification until you have been on the job for 18 months, studied for and passed an exam.

Meanwhile, for travel agents specializing in cruises, there's another certification available via the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA). The minimum professional certification for cruise-specific travel agents is the Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), which you can obtain after an intensive training program, two cruises you've taken yourself, at least five cruise ship inspections and sales of at least 25 staterooms.

How much does it cost to become a certified travel agent? That depends on the certification, but it will typically cost somewhere around $200.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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