Decades ago a MLM (multi-level-marketing) organization offered a knock-off of the official travel agent ID card at the time (an IATAN Travel Agent ID card) for $495 to anyone that would buy it. Of course the pitch included promises of being upgraded to first class on flights, cruising for $25 per day, hotel suites for peanuts, huge discounts on vacations, free admission into theme parks and so on. Plus, you supposedly could make money by recruiting your friends and neighbors into the scheme too. You actually didn’t have to sell any travel, just present your ID card for these fabulous discounts and freebies.

While the travel industry got caught with its pants down and some of these folks actually did slip through the cracks and were able to obtain some discounts, it was only a year (or so) before the cracks were sealed. Today suppliers are anxious to work with professional independent home-based agents who operate through a quality host agency, or on their own. The suppliers have identified the companies offering these ID Cards and are aware of who they are.

It is ironic that for less than $495 (the normal cost of the phony ID card) you can legally establish your own travel agency in your state that will be embraced by the industry. While everyone has different needs and desires from their host agency, you should understand your specific needs before approaching a host agency.

The bottom line is that you need to be careful about the various companies and/or agencies that you may consider joining. If the pitch is centered around the fabulous travel benefits you are going to get by presenting a photo ID card, you may want to be cautious, if your intent is to actually sell travel. The failure rate of these companies is extremely high and they rarely end up refunding monies paid into the scheme. Using the common business sense that “If it sounds to good to be true” is really the best way to approach the issue.

That is not to disparage agencies that are offering opportunities in the $495 (or lower) price range. Many agencies using referral agents that sell a program in this price range may be viable depending on your objectives. You need to check them out carefully and be sure that you understand the reality of their offerings. Many orthodox agencies have adapted the methods of the unorthodox marketers of a decade ago, and are developing viable networks or referral agents.

Here is what to look out for:

…Claims that you will receive discount or free travel are almost always scams. Think about it. If all anyone had to do is buy a phony travel agent ID card to travel at a discount, why would anyone pay full fare? Suppliers just aren’t that stupid. If you review the “Education” section of this website, you will see the extent that suppliers go to find and educate travel professionals. Do you think that a supplier would rather qualify agents by their efforts to learn about the supplier, or simply hand out a discount to someone with a phony ID card?

…A reward program (cash) for recruiting other people into the scheme. Once again, if you make money recruiting people, it is probably not something you want to get involved with unless you want to recruit people.

…Outrageous claims like “We are doing so much cruise business, we are going to buy our own ships”, “We are revolutionizing the travel industry” or “We are growing so fast we are going to become the largest travel organization in the world”. If the company is new (less than 2 or 3 years old), be very cautious.

…The person that you are talking to sounds somewhat like they are involved in a cult situation where some person involved in the organization is the “industry guru” or somehow perceived to be the most important person in the travel industry.

Like most scams, perpetrators appeal to one’s greed by indicating that you will get something for nothing. Getting free upgrades, discount cruises, free hotels stays and upgrades, admission to events and sightseeing attractions with a phony travel agent ID card is nonsense.

Even now (2013) there are still some card mills duping folks out of their money. The best way to make sure that you are avoiding unscrupulous operators is to stick with the list of host agencies found on