It’s true – you can become a travel agent for free by working with a fee-free host agency as an independent agent. It’s easy to get started. Learn how below!
Why You Should Become a Travel Agent
The choice to become a travel agent can be a smart career move. The travel and tourism industry brings in a whopping $1.9 trillion annually, so if you’re after a slice of that pie, your earning potential could be great.
If that sounds good, it’s time to start taking the idea of becoming a travel agent seriously and doing more research. That’s what this guide is all about!
Becoming a travel agent can be surprisingly simple once you’ve learned about the requirements and best ways to do business in this industry.
If you have a background in any of the following industries, working as a travel agent might be a good fit:
- Customer service
- Event planning
- Project management
- Frequent personal travel
- Frequent business travel
With the right skillset, a high school diploma or GED, and reliable access to the internet, you can actually become a travel agent for free by working with a host agency.
Can You Become a Travel Agent for Free?
It might sound too good to be true, but you can become a travel agent for free.
Most people who want to keep upfront costs low or free choose to start out working as an independent contractor under an existing travel agency, called a “host agency.”
Some host agencies offer new travel agent contractors access to free training, continuing education, marketing tools, client leads, and more.
With no or minimal licensing or certification requirements in most states, it’s easier than you think to become a travel agent.
You just have to be careful about the host agency (HA) you sign up with and read all the fine print to ensure your training and certification won’t come with hidden costs.
Becoming a travel agent for free requires you to do a little more research and reading to find the host agencies that genuinely offer their training and tools at no cost to new agents.
If you can find the right host agency (we’ll show you how to do it), you can become a travel agent for free with no fees for registering, training, access to marketing and lead tools, and access to continuing education!
6 Steps to Become a Travel Agent for Free
If you’re interesting in becoming a travel agent for free, you’ll need to work as a hosted travel agent – an independent contractor that works under an accredited host agency to book travel for clients.
So how does it work? The first step is browsing and locating a host agency that seems like a good fit for the type of travel you’re interested in selling and doesn’t charge startup or registration fees.
After that, you’ll apply as an independent contractor with a host agency that meets your criteria and start taking advantage of their mentoring and training programs to learn the ropes as a travel agent.
Finally, you’ll begin working, generating client leads, and planning amazing trips for your clients under the host agency!
Let’s take a closer look at how you can become a travel agent for free.
1. Browse Host Agencies
Browsing the different host agencies that are hiring independent contractors is your first step to becoming a travel agent for free. This is a big undertaking because there are so many HAs to choose from!
Sites like Host Agency Reviews are a great resource to find host agencies that specialize in your travel niche (if you’ll have one). Host Agency Reviews also holds regular webinars and virtual Q&A events that are invaluable for newbies in the industry.
You can also search online for host agencies with free training and no registration or startup fees.
Be diligent in your search because many host agencies offer free training, but will ask you to pay a one-time registration/startup fee, monthly/annual fees, or a combination of these.
We found that BNT Travel, LuxRally Travel, Andavo Travel, and Fora Travel are some good starting points for your search.
2. Review Host Agency Requirements
The next step to become a travel agent for free is reviewing the host agency’s requirements for new travel agents or advisors. The requirements differ by the agency, so take time to read through these criteria to see which agencies are a good fit.
Some host agencies look for independent contractor travel agents with a strong background in sales from any industry, like real estate, pharma, vehicles, and even retail sales.
Other agencies have stricter requirements and look for candidates with an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in the travel or tourism sector.
Even if the host agency’s requirements are lax, you should consider how successful you’ll be in the role with your current skillset.
Some agencies supply you with client leads, while others expect you to generate your own leads through social media, email, in-person, and paid search marketing.
This is a good time to look at the requirements a host agency has for their independent agents – monthly or annual sales goals, location requirements, insurance needs, and more.
3. Familiarize Yourself With the Training Process
Every host agency has its own way of handling training and education for independent contractor travel agents. If you want to become a travel agent for free, you’ll need to work with a host agency that offers free training.
That free training usually takes place online with a mix of self-guided learning through prepared course modules and one-on-one video calls with an experienced travel agent.
Training is typically done at your preferred pace, with the goal of earning 12-16 hours of training by the time you complete the courses and lessons.
Continued education and training is offered by the best host agencies, giving you webinars, mentor programs, Q&A sessions, and additional certification programs you can choose to complete to further your career.
4. Learn About the Host Agency Benefits
Once you’ve settled on a few host agencies that let you get started as a travel agent for free, it’s time to take a closer look at the benefits each one offers.
Review the type of contract your preferred host agencies offer for new travel agents – fixed (such as 6 months or 1 year) or indefinite (no set contract length).
For beginners, you’ll want to look at fixed contracts just in case you discover being a travel agent isn’t the right fit for you down the road.
Some host agencies will cover your Errors & Omissions (E&O) insurance, give you access to the Global Distribution System (GDS), offer higher sales commissions than others, or include special marketing tools for you to use.
It’s a good idea to look for host agencies offering at least 5% commission on domestic travel and 10% on international travel. You may find even higher commissions!
Don’t expect traditional employee benefits like health insurance or paid time off. As an independent contractor, you’ll be considered a freelancer or self-employed when you work under a host agency.
5. Enroll in a Host Agency Training Program
By this point, you will have narrowed your focus to one or two host agencies that seem like a good fit. When you’re settled on the right host agency, visit their website to enroll in their free training program.
Every host agency handles this process differently, but take a look at LuxRally’s process for an idea of what to expect.
- Enroll in the training program online
- Join a 15-minute phone call with the VP of Sales
- If the agency wants to move forward, access to training is granted
- Complete 12-16 hours of training at your own pace
- Emerge as a certified and trained agent, ready to book clients and start earning
If your enrollment isn’t accepted or the agency doesn’t want to move forward, you can move down your list and try another travel agency with no fees.
If you’re having trouble getting a yes from a host agency, consider doing some free training on your own to help your application stand out and broaden your skillset.
6. Start Working as a Travel Agent
After you’ve enrolled and completed your free training as a travel agent, you may need to fill out 1099 tax forms and sign a written contract to join the team as an independent contractor.
Depending on the host agency you’ve chosen, you may have access to free marketing tools and templates that can help you start finding travel clients right away.
If you’re responsible for generating your own leads, there are many ways to do it for free. Social media, word of mouth, free business cards, and creating a free website to gather leads are all options when you get started.
You’ll be able to use your training to help your new clients build the travel package that meets their needs. Each sale you make earns you commission, with most offering commission on:
- Vacation homes
- Rental cars
- Travel insurance
The more travel bookings you’re able to make as an independent contractor agent, the more money you’ll earn! You can start out part-time and work your way up to full-time once you’ve got a solid lead generation system.
Do You Need a License to Become a Travel Agent?
You’ve discovered that you can become a travel agent for free, but do you need a license to get started? Not if you’re working as an independent contractor under a qualified host agency.
There are only 4 states in the nation that require independent travel agents and agency owners to have a license, called a Seller of Travel (SOT) license.
If you’re an independent contractor operating under a licensed host agency (HA) and meet other criteria (more info below) as a sole proprietor, you will not need a license to become a travel agent.
The Big Four SOT States® that require travel agent licensing are California, Florida, Hawaii, and Washington. Unlike real estate or cosmetology licenses, SOT licenses don’t require an exam or training.
Instead, you’ll just fill out some paperwork, pay a state-specific fee, and obtain a Seller of Travel license number. If you start your own travel agency (no host agency) or plan on selling travel packages to people in any of the 4 SOT states, you’ll need this license.
There are exemptions to the license for each state. Here’s a look at California’s SOT license exemptions – if you meet all of these criteria, you won’t need a SOT license to sell travel in California:
- You are a Sole Proprietor, single-member LLC, or single-shareholder S Corp
- You have a written contract with a host agency that holds a California SOT license
- You sell travel only through your host agency using their accreditation number
- Your fees are processed through the host agency and never independently
- Your clients pay your host agency directly
- You disclose your host agency relationship and accreditation number to every travel customer
Florida, Hawaii, and Washington have slightly different, but very similar rules for SOT licensing when you’re operating under a host agency as an independent contractor.
Things to Consider
The move to become a travel agent for free is an exciting one, but there are lots of things to keep in mind to ensure you don’t end up owing your host agency money or regretting your decision.
Here are a few things to consider before you enroll with a host agency for free training!
- What’s your travel niche? Some travel agents offer their services to anyone and everyone, no matter what kind of trip they’re planning. Others focus on a travel niche, like adventure travel, multi-city travel, honeymoons, theme park vacations, and more. If you narrow your focus, you may have a better chance of reaching your target audience in the crowded online space.
- Is your host agency right for you? With so many host agencies out there, it can be overwhelming to sort through them all and choose the right one. Looking for agencies that don’t charge you any money to get started narrows the list considerably, but from there, you’ll want to look at lots of reviews from former and current agents to see if the overall view of the company is positive or negative.
- Part-time or full-time? Getting started as a travel agent makes it tempting to quit your job and jump into this career feet-first, but that’s usually not the most successful way to do it. Most travel agents get started part-time and work up to full-time status as they nail down their lead generation methods and build a larger client base.
- How often will you get paid? Host agencies have differing policies on payment, from payment methods to frequency. Most host agencies will offer payment via direct deposit, check, or wire transfer with options to get paid weekly or monthly.
- What will you need to pay for later? While it’s not impossible to find host agencies that offer free training and don’t charge registration or startup fees, you may run into monthly or annual fees, travel membership fees, and software fees down the road. Be sure to get a clear understanding of what you’ll need to pay for later on so there are no surprises.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning how to become a travel agent for free often leads to a lot more questions. Check out some of the most common questions and concerns other people considering this career have to learn more!
Is it expensive to become a travel agent?
It can be, but it’s possible to become a travel agent for free by working with host agencies that offer free training and don’t charge startup fees.
Otherwise, becoming a travel agent can cost anywhere from $190-$900. It all depends on the host agency you choose, whether or not you start your own travel agency, and which state you’re located in (which may require a Seller of Travel license).
How to make money as a free travel agent?
Travel agents working under a host agency typically don’t charge a direct fee to their clients, but instead earn commission from the travel bookings and insurance add-ons clients purchase.
Travel agents who own their own agency make money by securing exclusive discounts or earning commissions directly from airlines, hotels, cruise lines, and/or rental car companies.
How do I become a travel agent from scratch?
Finding a good host agency, enrolling in and completing their online training process, and completing some paperwork is really all it takes to become a travel agent from scratch.
In some states, including CA, FL, HI, and WA, you may need to obtain a Seller of Travel license unless your host agency has the proper accreditation.
You’ll want to have some marketing methods in place or use the tools offered by your host agency to start finding travel clients so you can earn money as a travel agent.
Do you need a license to be a travel agent in Ohio?
No, you don’t need a Seller of Travel (SOT) license to be a travel agent in Ohio. As long as you have a high school diploma or GED and meet the requirements of your host agency (if applicable), you can become a travel agent in Ohio.
If you plan on selling travel insurance, you may need an Ohio insurance license. Check out Ohio.gov for more information on insurance licensing in the state.
What qualifies as a travel agent?
A travel agent acts as the middle man between someone booking a trip or activities and the airline, hotel, cruise line, rental car company, etc. Travel agents typically earn a commission around 5-10% when helping clients book travel. To qualify as a travel agent, you may need a high school diploma/GED, sales and customer service skills, or additional licenses and certifications.
Take the Next Step Today!
Now that you understand the ins and outs to become a travel agent for free, you might be ready to take the next step: Finding the right host agency for you.
Make sure to look over reviews for the host agencies you’re considering, prioritizing reviews from former and current agents with experience working under the agency.
While you might be starting out as a part-time travel agent, the right skills, continuing education and certifications in the industry, and focusing on growing your clientele will make it possible to become a full-time travel agent at your own pace.
And since you can become a travel agent for free, you’ve got nothing to lose – just a few training hours and commitment to making the most of this fulfilling, fun career!