Mark Pestronk
Mark Pestronk

Q: I recently bought a travel agency, and I am pretty confused about ARC and Iatan. What's the difference between them, and why is my agency's ARC number the same as its Iatan number? What's the difference between Iatan and IATA? What's the point of having both accreditations? If we don't want to sell airline tickets, do we still need to keep our ARC and Iatan accreditations?

A: With all the new, home-based and Internet-based travel advisors entering the agency business, I'm sure that you aren't the only one who is confused. I could not find any trade-press article that succinctly addressed your questions, so let me try to help you.

ARC stands for Airlines Reporting Corporation. It is an Arlington, Va., company that is owned by the major U.S. airlines. ARC accredits agency locations that want to issue airline tickets. Each accredited location pays for the tickets through ARC.

ARC assigns a number to each location. ARC calls the number an Agency Code Number (ACN). ARC actually obtains the number from IATA.

IATA is a Montreal trade association of the world's major airlines. For antitrust law reasons, IATA has no regulatory role in the U.S., except to issue ACNs for ARC-accredited locations.

However, IATA has spun off a Miami division called the International Airlines Travel Agent Network (Iatan). Iatan mimics ARC in that it accredits locations and assigns a number to them. If the location already has an ARC number, Iatan uses the same number.

The ostensible purpose of an Iatan accreditation is that the world's foreign air carriers will recognize the location. However, since both U.S. and foreign carriers recognize the location because of an ARC accreditation, Iatan accreditation is not needed for you to be able to act as a travel agency for the world's airlines.

Nevertheless, many ARC-accredited agencies also maintain Iatan accreditations because advisors working for the agency (as employees or independent contractors) can get an identification card from Iatan that sometimes allows them to get travel discounts. The Iatan card is also a sign of professionalism for travel advisors.

ARC and Iatan both have a change-of-ownership process under which a buyer and seller jointly ask that ARC and Iatan consent to the new ownership of the accreditation. If you haven't already obtained these consents to your acquisition, you should do so promptly.

If you no longer want to sell airline tickets, you can give up your ARC accreditation and keep your Iatan accreditation. However, you might as well keep ARC in case industry economics change and it becomes worthwhile to issue tickets again.

Don't give up both ARC and Iatan, because the number is used by hotels, car rental companies, cruise lines and tour operators in tracking your agency's bookings and paying commissions.

If you don't currently have either ARC or Iatan accreditation, and if you don't want to issue airline tickets, both ARC and Iatan have programs for assigning you a number under a lesser form of accreditation with fewer qualification requirements. With those numbers, you may be able to sell airline tickets through individual carriers' websites.

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