Feb 19, 2024

Becoming a Travel Agent and Choosing a Host Agency

You might hear that travel agencies are a dying model, but in the last few years they've grown, more than 1 out of every 10 trips are booked through an agency. If you want to become a travel agent and are looking for a host agency, or your considering switching host agencies, there's a number of things you need to keep in mind; especially in a landscape where clients expect a higher level of service and better digital support.

Why host agencies?

Host agencies exist because of the barriers to entry around becoming a truly independent agent. CLIA, IATA, and other travel organizations have a list of qualifications that have to be met that are for an aspiring, or experienced, agent difficult to fulfill.

Host agencies assume a lot of the risk around getting these certifications and memberships, and in turn, you as a travel agent pay them to become an agent under their umbrella, and share your commission with the host agency.

The best host agencies will support you through the process with essential partnerships, tooling and credibility. For a new agent, they can be a great stepping stone into becoming a travel agent without the administrative or financial pressure of going all-out on your own.

But the main reason for using a host agency: they are the gateway for you as a travel agent to get paid commission on your bookings!

However- host agencies aren't the only way to sell travel. You can start a truly independent agency of your own, but you'll need to meet the standards set forth by organizations like IATA.

Some of the Top Host Agencies

Outside Agents

Read Reviews for Outside Agents
Probably the most popular host agency with 9000 contractors. They have a decent starting commission split, no setup fee, and relatively low monthly plans. They do not offer any access to GDS systems.

Travel Planner International

Read Reviews for TPI
Another very popular host agency. Over 1000 contractors.

Avoya Travel

Read Reviews for Avoya
High initial setup fee, however they have no monthly fee. Avoya is focused on a more premium experience.

WorldVia - Travel Quest Network

Read Reviews for WorldVia
Low cost monthly plans, currently no setup fees. You can get 90% commission starting out, and gain access to their GDS providers. More tailored towards experienced agents.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Host Agency

When looking into what host agency you want to join, you should take into consideration a few main things. The monthly membership cost, their partnerships, the resources they provide, and the technology they offer.

The Cost

When it comes to membership cost, you shouldn't over-extend yourself. If you're just starting out, try to find a host agency that has low dues. You might have a less than ideal commission split, but it's better to spend less out of pocket when you're first starting out. If you're already selling a lot of travel, have existing relationships, and a solid book of business, you also might not need to spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars a year out of pocket depending on their commission structure.


Partnerships are key when evaluating host agencies. Most host agencies won't publicize their preferred partners, but research reviews from other agents to get a sense of how extensive their list of partners is. If you plan to specialize in a specific niche, you should see if there are host agencies that are tailored to the kind of travel you want to sell.


Host agencies should also have extensive resources and trainings. Some travel sellers, cruise lines, theme parks, or hotel chains might require you to go through additional training to sell certain products to your clients, or they might pay less in commission if you haven't finished these trainings. The best host agencies will offer destination and travel seller-specific trainings and resources that will walk you through how to provide your clients with the best experience. Some host agencies will also have a community or forum where you can ask questions and host agency staff, or other travel agents, will answer and guide you in the right direction.


Technology is key. Most clients are used to the experience of booking travel online, and want to have the same kind of user experience, but with the added benefit of a real person planning and crafting their trip. Some host agencies have better tools than others. However, you don't need to rely on their tools exclusively. As you continue your career, access to certain ticketing and booking platforms and global distribution systems (GDS) might become more important, and might effect what host agency you choose.

Additional Travel Tools you might use

Layup helps you give your clients impressive proposals, itineraries and a travel portal to manage all the details of their trip. From inquiry forms, to social media specific landing pages, to a straightforward CRM, Layup can help agents at every step of the way. It's a key piece of the puzzle for most agents. You can try Layup for free! Just sign up here.

Red Flags

You should be aware that some agencies make most of their money exclusively through membership dues and subscriptions, and don't expect you to ever make enough money to break even. Many will tell you that all host agencies are just multi-level-marketing companies. In some aspects that might be true. Your goal as an agent should be to spend as little as possible on joining a host agency, and reaching breakeven on your expenses as quickly as you can.

  • Some agencies will promise you leads, show you average agent earnings, or talk about their referral programs. If you see unrealistic promises about earnings and leads, you should remember: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Becoming a travel agent can be a great career
Independent travel agents can make a good living, and get to enjoy the perks of traveling! But, you should remember that starting any business on your own will be difficult. You should have a solid plan for what kinds of travel you plan on selling, where you'll find your clients, and how you'll market yourself.

Make sure that you take the right first step into your journey and pick a reputable, well reviewed host agency.