Are You a Legal Professional?

Should You Use a Travel Agent?

Whether you are a frequent flier or the occasional traveler, you likely have had a few travel agent questions regarding the best way to plan a trip. To help you weigh out the benefits of using a travel agent or planning a trip on your own, below are a few frequently asked travel agent questions.

What services does a travel agent offer?

Travel agents provide information and help consumers make travel arrangements. A travel agent, for instance, coordinates a traveler's airline flight, hotel reservation, car rental, or tour. Travel agents offer advice and answer common travel agent questions such as inquiries weather conditions, exhibits to visit, currency exchange rates, required travel documentation, and local customs.

What are the duties and obligations travel agents have to consumers?

Because travel agents receive compensation from travel suppliers, there is a certain degree of loyalty to suppliers rather than consumers. However, several state courts have ruled that because of the special relationship between travel agents and consumers, travel agents are fiduciaries subject to a high standard of care. A travel agent, consequently, has special duties and obligations to clients. A travel agent has the following duties:

  • Duty to warn. A travel agent has a duty to disclose known negative information that is not "obvious or apparent" to the consumer. For example, if a travel agent is aware that a certain destination has recently experienced a rash of muggings, the travel agent has a duty to warn the client. If a danger is public knowledge, however, the travel agent bears no responsibility for giving this information.
  • Duty to investigate. Because travel agents have access to travel information through trade journals and travel magazines, agents have a duty to stay informed about conditions that could affect a client's trip. Courts have ruled that when available, travel agents should have knowledge of information like the financial stability of suppliers and tour operators and the ability of suppliers and tour operators to deliver travel services. For example, courts have found travel agents liable for failing to investigate whether a hotel was open or whether it was under construction.
  • Duty to inform. Travel agents have a duty to inform clients about important travel information. Travel agents must inform clients about restrictions on tickets, itinerary changes, the types of travel documentation needed, and the availability of travel insurance.
  • Duty to make reservations. Travel agents have a duty to make the reservation requested by the client. The travel agent is responsible for making the correct reservation that is consistent with a client's requirement. If the travel agent makes the wrong reservation or a delay results in increased costs, the travel agent will be responsible for the difference between the original cost and the actual cost.
  • Duty to confirm reservations. When a travel agent books travel arrangements through a wholesaler or a tour operator, the agent must confirm the reservation and notify the client of any changes to the itinerary. The travel agent must confirm the reservation by directly contacting the supplier.
  • Duty to disclose a supplier's identity: A travel agent must disclose the identity of the wholesaler or tour operator that will deliver the service to the consumer. The failure to provide this information may result in a travel agent's liability for damages that result from defaults or accidents.

My travel agent charged me less than what I really owed. Do I have to pay the difference?

Whether the client is responsible for paying the difference depends on the circumstance. If, for instance, the travel arrangements were booked based on the price quoted by the travel agent, it is likely that the agent will be responsible for incurring the cost if the client relied on the agent's quote. On the other hand, if the agent quoted the correct price but inadvertently charged less, the client is responsible for paying the additional amount owed.

How do travel agents earn money?

Travel agents receive compensation from commissions earned from travel suppliers and for some services provided to clients. For example, a travel agent may charge a client for booking an airline flight or making hotel or car rental reservations. Beginning in 2002, U.S. airlines discontinued the payment of base commissions to travel agents.

Do travel agents need a license?

Most states do not require travel agents to obtain a license. In some states, like California and Florida, travel agents must register with the appropriate state agency.

Are travel agents subject to regulations by professional associations?

No. Professional associations for travel agents do not regulate the conduct of agents. Although professional associations do have established guiding principles for members, these rules provide consumers with very little recourse if an agent violates a code of ethics. Nevertheless, a consumer with a complaint or questions about an agent may contact the association the travel agent belongs to and make a complaint. Some associations do provide mediation services to resolve disputes.

The following is a list of contact information for professional associations for travel agents:


American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA)
703-739-2782
http://www.asta.org

1101 King Street, Suite 200
Alexandria, VA 22314
fax: 703-684-8319

 

Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA)
859-269-9739
http://www.artaonline.com

 

2692 Richmond Road, Suite 202
Lexington, KY 40509
fax: 859-266-9396

 

International Airlines Travel Agent Network (IATAN)
516-663-6000
http://www.iatan.org

 

300 Garden City Plaza, Suite 342
Garden City, NY 11530
fax: 516-747-4462

 

Institute of Certified Travel Agents (ICTA)
800-542-4282
http://www.thetravelinstitute.com

 

148 Linden Street, P.O. Box 812059
Wellesley, MA 02482
fax: 781-237-3860

Next Steps
Contact a qualified consumer attorney to assist with
protecting your rights with regard to travel rules and contracts.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution