UPDATE: ASTA distributed a white paper about card mills to
consumer-protection agencies and Better Business Bureaus across the
U.S. as part of an effort to educate the public on how such outfits
differ from legitimate travel agencies. Card mills typically sell
what they purport to be travel agent credentials to consumers,
promising they will be eligible for travel discounts and other
industry perks. Many home-based agents are likely to have had
experiences with card mills -- it's how some entered the business
and, in some cases, were able to learn the ropes and
eventually expand beyond the card mills reach.
ONE SUCH agent is Patricia Bannister, who owns
Bannister Travel in Memphis and is the director of the Outside
Sales Support Networks (OSSN) Memphis chapter. While Bannister
credits a card mill with helping launch her career, she strongly
cautions others to beware. Understand that I wouldnt be a travel
agent today if it werent for my membership in a card mill. The work
that I put into the industry led me and others like me to become
owners of our own agencies, she told TravelWeekly.com.
I won't say who the card mill was that I began with, but I will say
that they are still in business. I got a good education from them.
They had a very good training program and teachers for those like
me, who really love travel and wanted to help others to get the
quality travel that is to be had."
TRAINING aside, Bannister's experience with her
card mill host agency was disappointing. The firm she dealt with
comes into an area, saturates the market with what they call
home-based agents, giving each one a membership card with their
picture on it -- that includes members of their families, also.
They offer training until the market is saturated, and then they
close the local office and disappear back to their home base, where
you cannot get in touch with anyone by phone and if you do, you
cannot get them to help you.
HER ADVICE? Anyone wanting to get into the
business needs to find a host agency with a solid track record in
the industry. Would-be agents should know that it is going to cost
them a bit of money to get the education they will need to become a
real agent. However, it wont be as much money as a card mill is
going to ask them to invest. Bannister said she now gets her
training online and through OSSN. ASTA President and CEO Kathryn
Sudeikis said a copy of the white paper can be downloaded in PDF
format, at www.astanet.com/news/CardMillWhitePaper.pdf.
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