or anybody who's counting, this week will mark the sixth anniversary of Delta's decision to cap domestic commissions at $50 per roundtrip. For the record, the move took effect Feb. 10, 1995. It changed forever the way travel agents regard the airlines, and the way airlines regard agents.

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At the time, ARC counted about 45,200 accredited agency locations, including 33,100 retail locations and about 12,100 STP ticket delivery locations.

Today, the ARC list includes nearly 38,900 locations. In round numbers, that includes about 30,100 retail establishments and 8,800 ticket delivery sites.

In the six years since Delta invented the caps, the number of retail locations has dropped a mere 10% -- a fact that might be of some comfort to those who like to regard their glasses as half full.

However, a true assessment of the impact of the commission caps and cuts has to look beyond the numbers. For one thing, today's numbers were inflated by the 1999 conversion of SatoTravel from an airline-owned sales outlet into an independent travel management company with 1,400 U.S. locations.

And the numbers were deflated by the decisions of thousands of travel professionals to stay in the business but to opt out of an ARC-accredited environment.

We were speaking with an agency owner the other day whose agency started de-emphasizing airline sales on Feb. 10, 1995.

Service fees became a fact of life. The words "and cruises" found their way into the company name.

The agency's air sales now account for about 15% of its total volume, just enough to justify keeping the CRS. And the agency's more profitable today.

That may have been an exceptional agency. We suspect that many agents believe they are not better off than they were in 1994.

But maybe the real question is this: Are you better off than you thought you were going to be?

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