A Travel Advisor's Guide to Industry Terms

Use this travel advisor guide of industry terms to navigate the ABCs of trip-planning

Since the Great Flood of 2017, when new-to-industry advisors entered the travel industry in record waves, the waters haven’t ebbed.

But the overflow has caused a bit of a logjam: With more people than ever rushing toward a new career path comes a greater need for education — and there’s a lot to learn.

Although I’m not an advisor, I entered the travel industry as a relative newbie. Sure, I knew the ins and outs of packing appropriately for a destination, navigating to and from the airport, and that staying at an all-inclusive might entail interacting with a lot of inebriated guests. But I came from a background of writing about small business and entrepreneurship — I could tell you the difference between seed and Series A funding, or who the SBA and SCORE are.

But the travel industry presented a whole new language, full of words and acronyms I had never encountered. A DMC? I thought that was helmed by rapper Rev. Run. A fam? Those are the people I visit during the holidays. And ASTA? Why, he was an adorable scene-stealing dog from 1930s films. (I don’t even want to tell you what I assumed BDM stood for.)

Seasoned agents know the following terms like the back of their hand. But for new-to-industry advisors, the quantity of jargon to learn can be overwhelming. We tapped some veterans of the travel industry for the vernacular they recommend mastering. Our hope is that this cheat sheet can be your guide whenever you feel at a loss for words. (Want to see a term added to our list? Email letters@travelagewest.com.)


Travel Glossary

ASTA: American Society of Travel Advisors (formerly American Society of Travel Agents). Touting a newly revised name to reflect the changing nature of the industry, ASTA is the world’s largest association of travel professionals and advocates for travel advisors, the travel industry and the traveling public. It offers agents resources such as education courses, research, webinars, conferences and certification programs.


BDM: Business Development Manager. This is your go-to person at a supplier for the latest information about the company’s offers, updates and specials. A BDM’s role is to nurture advisor relationships and help agencies grow through support, marketing, promotions, fam trips, partnerships, education opportunities and more, according to Steve Orens, president of Encino, Calif.-based Plaza Travel.

CLIA: Cruise Lines International Association. The largest cruise industry trade association, CLIA promotes cruise travel and supports safe and sustainable cruising policies and practices. The organization offers advisors professional development and training programs, as well as certification opportunities, including Certified Cruise Counsellor (CCC), Accredited Cruise Counsellor (ACC), Master Cruise Counsellor (MCC), Elite Cruise Counsellor (ECC) and Travel Agency Executive (TAE).


Consortium (plural consortia): An organization made up of independent advisors and agencies, a consortium helps its members increase their buying power, commission and client amenity offerings. Advantages can include marketing programs, commission overrides, training, fam trips, technical tools, client referrals and networking opportunities.

Additionally, a consortium negotiates with suppliers on behalf of its members to create preferred supplier benefits that advisors can pass on to clients, such as upgrades, special offers not available to the general public and room amenities. Well-known consortia include Virtuoso; Signature Travel Network; Ensemble Travel Group; Travelsavers and NEST; and Vacation, owned by Travel Leaders Group. There is usually a sales volume requirement to join.

CRM: Customer Relationship Management. CRM tools keep a workflow organized in one space and can track the life cycle of a client — such as past travel experiences, psychographic data and key dates such as birthdays and anniversaries. CRMs help advisors streamline trip management and foster customer relationships.

Diamond Ratings: This rating system from AAA — which has been around for more than 80 years — assigns hotels and restaurants in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean a designation of one to five diamonds (where five diamonds is the most luxurious) to indicate the type of experience that clients can expect. New-to-industry agents should note that AAA Diamond ratings differ from star ratings, says
Donna Alkarmi, president of Lone Star Travel in McKinney, Texas.

For example, to earn a AAA Diamond, a property must meet 27 requirements, whereas other star rating systems may have a wholly different set of criteria or may not be governed in any way. Advisors would be wise to brush up on the diamond rating system so that they can book accommodations that best suit clients’ needs.


DMC: Destination Management Company. A third party with extensive knowledge of the region or destination it represents that handles on-the-ground travel operations such as local coordination, logistics and trip-planning.

Fam Trip: A free or low-cost “familiarization trip” allows agents (and sometimes a guest) to experience a destination, cruise, hotel, tour and/or other travel supplier service firsthand and in-depth.

A fam isn’t a vacation; it’s an opportunity to educate yourself about a supplier’s offerings so that you can better match clients to their dream trip. Melissa Varela of San Ramon, Calif.-based Modern Romance Travel suggests a few etiquette rules to help advisors best represent themselves — and the travel industry — while on a fam.

  • Be on time. Being late delays the group and is disrespectful to your host.
  • Dress appropriately. Typically, this means business casual attire — no jeans, T-shirts or short-shorts.
  • Promote your visit. Take lots of photos and post them on your social media channels.
  • Mind your alcohol intake. You don’t want to be “that person.”

Food for Thought

The list of meal plans available at properties is often stuffed with acronyms and can be hard to digest. We hope this guide makes them easier to swallow.

AI: An All-Inclusive plan covers all meals, and often many or all beverages.

AP: An American Plan includes three meals per day.

BB: Not to be confused with a bed-and-breakfast-style accommodation, a bed-and-breakfast rate — sometimes known as a Bermuda Plan (BP) — includes full breakfast at a hotel.

CP: A Continental Plan includes daily continental breakfast.

EP: A European Plan does not include any meals.

MAP: A Modified American Plan includes two meals per day.

FIT: Free Independent Traveler/Tourist. Advisors can create customized FIT trips for an individual or a group of fewer than 10 people, as opposed to booking a traditional guided tour or a package that combines local attractions, transportation and lodging. Travelers who seek immersive and local experiences tend to prefer FIT trips over escorted ones, but there are many benefits to blending the two: Clients can receive expert knowledge from guides, and agents can make more commission by combining products.

GDS: Global Distribution System. This computerized network system — which is owned or operated by a company that enables transactions between travel agencies and suppliers — allows advisors to provide clients with detailed information and rates on airline, hotel and car rental bookings.

IATAN: International Airlines Travel Agent Network. This U.S. industry association aims to assist advisors in maintaining a set of standards that are of value to airlines, agents and consumers, according to Varela. Along with the International Air Transport Association (IATA), IATAN is responsible for the standard international codes for airlines, airports, hotels, cities and car rental firms. Advisors who hold an IATA/IATAN ID Card — the only industry credential recognized worldwide for travel professionals — can receive exclusive access to education and travel rewards programs from industry suppliers such as hotels, airlines, attractions, fam trip organizers and more.


IC: Independent Contractor. According to the IRS, “an individual is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done.” ICs are not employees of the company for which they do work and do not receive employment benefits. The main benefit of being an IC is independence — you have the freedom of working at your own pace and on your own schedule — and there are also no federal or state taxes withheld from paychecks. For agencies, using ICs reduces company overhead costs and provides tax benefits. However, laws and regulations about hiring or being an IC can be complicated; both advisors and agencies should do thorough research.

NCF: Non-commissionable fare/fees. A portion of a cruise fare that an advisor cannot earn commission on. While cruise lines are not required to detail what charges are included in an NCF — which has caused agents frustration for a couple decades — they typically encompass port charges; government taxes, tolls or fees; or other third-party fees that a cruise line incurs from a sailing. The amount varies depending on the itinerary.

Net vs. Gross: Net is the cost of a trip for a vendor and is almost always non-commissionable; gross, on the other hand, is almost always a commissionable rate, but you must ask the vendor what the commission is — some allow you to mark it up further. When quoted a net rate, advisors need to mark up the commission they want to make on the sale, then adjust the pricing before they quote it to the client, advises Lynda Turley of Turley Travel Group, affiliated with Alpine Travel of Saratoga/Coastline Travel Advisors in California.

“I tell the vendor to mark it up 12 to 15 percent, then send me the quote,” she said. “This helps me to not send a net quote to a client when I’m in a rush. You’d be surprised how many new agents get a net quote and pass it on to the client.”

Daniela Harrison, a travel consultant for Avenues of the World Travel in Flagstaff, Ariz., has seen this as well.

“The biggest misconception with newbies that we’ve seen is the net versus gross issue,” she said. “We’ve had several agents who would quote net rates instead of gross, and they didn’t understand why they didn’t make any money on a trip.”

PNR: Passenger Name Record. A computer reservation system’s record of a booking, a PNR contains a client’s personal information and itinerary. A PNR is most often used for bookings related to airlines, hotels, car rentals, airport transfers and trains.


What's in a Name?

Whether you call yourself a travel advisor, agent, planner, counselor, professional, consultant, ninja or otherwise, there is no formalized process or universal certification for becoming one. This is good and bad news: Anyone can become an advisor, as there is a low barrier to entry — but that also means there are some highly unqualified people out there. To distinguish yourself from the pack, there are many program options, including those from CLIA for advisors who specialize in cruising. There’s also the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), which offers the Global Travel Professional (GTP) certification for agents focused on corporate and business travel management.

The Travel Institute has the longest running travel agent certification program, and its most well-known certifications include:

CTA: Certified Travel Associate. To earn this designation, advisors must have 12 months of industry experience. The program covers 15 critical areas of study.

CTC: Certified Travel Counselor. This designation builds upon the CTA certification with more education and practical advice. To earn the title, an advisor must have five years of travel industry experience.

CTIE: Certified Travel Industry Executive. The CTIE program teaches advisors comprehensive leadership skills. In order to earn the designation, an agent must have five years of travel industry experience.


Don’t Call Me Shirley

To help travel advisors navigate aviation industry jargon, leading industry speaker and consultant Marc Mancini — who has created certification programs for Cruise Lines International Association, Marriott International, the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, Holland America Line and Norwegian Cruise Line (and who is the mastermind behind TravelAge West’s Geo Quiz) — penned an “Airline Dictionary.” Here are some of our favorite excerpts to help you pilot your next trip-planning experience.

Passenger: Cargo that talks

Code-share: Magic trick in which aircraft from several different airlines leave from the same gate at the very same moment

Overbooked Flight Compensation: $500 air voucher valid for travel on any day in a leap year except on a date numbered between 1 and 30

Minimum Connecting Time: Time it takes for an Olympic sprinter to run between two gates

Remain Seated Announcement: Phrase that creates an instant urge to go to the lavatory

On Time: Obscure term, meaning unknown