The lure of discounted travel and the opportunity to work from home have led many to consider entering the travel industry as an independent contractor and obtaining a travel agent ID card. Some companies who were more in the business of selling "travel agent kits" than selling cruises and tours promised heavily discounted travel to anyone who purchased their package and flashed the provided ID card proclaiming "I'm a travel agent." In reaction, the travel industry instituted many restrictions to eliminate these "card mills" and now only recognizes select ID cards. However, for anyone who is serious about a career in travel, you can get an independent contractor ID.
Commit to a host agency. A host agency has business relationships with the cruise lines and tour companies and typically obtains preferred pricing and higher commission levels than you could get on your own. While they may charge an upfront and monthly fee, or retain a percentage of your commissions, they also offer training, support and the opportunity to participate in discounted educational travel called FAMs. The Professional Association of Travel Hosts (PATH) is a good place to begin your search. There are many other excellent host agencies not affiliated with PATH.
Educate yourself. The most common ID card is obtained not from your host agency, but from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). However, CLIA requires that your host be a member agency and that you are enrolled in a cruise counselor certification program and take at least one educational class per year. Your host may have additional educational requirements.
Sell that cruise! The independent contractor ID card provided by CLIA, or any other organization, is intended for individuals actively engaged in the selling of travel. Most host agencies require you to sell a minimum amount of travel within a designated time, and they reserve the right to terminate your agreement should you fail to do so.
Apply for your card. You can apply online if you have a scanned or digital passport photo (square) in JPG format (see References). You can also download the application from the CLIA website and forward it to their processing center along with a passport-style photo and the fee ($29, as of May 2011). Your host agency manager must approve the card. You must renew the card yearly.
Look for a host agency that offers training for those new to the travel industry.
Attend a travel agent trade show to meet representatives from various host agencies.
Beware of "card mill" host agencies offering unrealistic benefits.