What Is an ARC Number?

By Steph Lee, Host Agency Reviews

If you’re new to the travel industry, the amount of accreditation numbers we have that exist in a cryptic acronym form is a bit disturbing. CLIA, IATAN, ARC, and more … blech! It’s complicated, but I’ll do my best to give you all the details. What is an ARC number, you ask? I’ll tell you.

What is an ARC Number? In broad terms, think of it as a social security number for a travel agency so it can be identified by vendors. You don’t want to be plastering it all over or putting it in your email signature, but, at the same time, agents are required to give it out to an uncomfortably large number of people, considering that the number has so much power.

ARC (Airlines Reporting Corporation) gives out these numbers to accredited agencies, which in turn allows those travel agencies to issue airline tickets. But the use of an ARC number extends beyond air tickets—travel agencies will use it to book everything from a hotel to a cruise ship.

When it comes to booking, ARC numbers are the Visa cards of travel numbers. They’re accepted by every type of vendor/supplier that works with travel agents. But here’s a little secret—that’s not always the case with some of the travel agency ID numbers out there. For instance, CLIA agencies (without ARC accreditation) cannot issue airline tickets. This makes sense because CLIA numbers were designed specifically for cruise-focused travel agencies.

Who Uses an ARC Number? Short answer: An ARC number was a necessity for travel agencies at one point. Most air ticketing agencies have an ARC number, but non-airline ticketing agencies may use a variety of other accreditation numbers, including CLIA, VTC (through ARC), IATAN non-ticketing entity, or TRUE accreditation.

Long answer: Back in the day, an ARC number was an absolute necessity if you had a travel agency. This is not the case today. The number of ARC-accredited travel agencies has plummeted. In 1995, ARC had 47,000 accredited travel agency locations with $73 billion in sales. As of January 2016, the number of travel agencies holding an ARC number had fallen below 13,000. This undeniable drop in ARC accreditation is due to fewer agencies and other accreditation alternatives. But there is one other small factor to mention: Don’t quote me on the exact date of the change, but travel agencies previously had to have an ARC number for every branch and satellite ticketing printer.  Nowadays, you can have one ARC number regardless of the number of branches or satellite printers.

Many agencies that previously needed the GDS have dropped their accreditation due to its expense and the disappearance of airline commissions. Some agencies completely stopped issuing airline tickets and closed shop or opted for other accreditations. Some agencies ticket under their host agency’s accreditation number.

The Complexities of ARC Accreditation: Not for Everyone ARC numbers are not needed for every type of travel agency. If you’re a home-based travel agent or a storefront agency that only books leisure travel (no air), having your own ARC number probably is overkill. For those agencies that have fewer air ticket sales, having your own ARC number is expensive, time-intensive and possibly risky. There are fees and the ARC report that needs to be filed and reconciled weekly. You run the risk of fraudulent ticketing activity occurring with your ARC for which you would be held financially responsible.

Due to the financial risk involved with booking airline tickets, ARC requires an in-depth screening process (including an on-site visit and a financial survey). You also will need to pass an exam. At of the time of writing, ARC accreditation has a $2000 price tag to start up and a $210 annual renewal fee. Did we mention that there is a minimum $20,000 bond, letter of credit or cash deposit you must put up? We’re not hating on the fees; airline fraud is rampant, and we’d take preventative measures too. What we are saying is you need to be ready to dole out some cash if you want an ARC number.

Positives of Having an ARC Number Despite everything above, there are many positives to having your own ARC number. I won’t go in-depth because my target audience is travel agencies aligned with host agencies, and I believe there are very few of my readers for whom this would be a good idea.

But, lest someone call me biased, I’ll give the primary positive. For agencies with high segment counts in the GDS (global distribution system), there are financial incentives from both the GDS and the airlines for your sales. There’s a reason the remaining ARC-accredited agencies sales are growing larger and larger!

In Closing IATA, CLIA, ARC, and TRUE are all accreditation numbers with subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, differences. Hopefully, this article will help you begin to navigate the murky waters of travel ID numbers!

Steph Lee is the founder of Host Agency Reviews, an independent website connecting home-based travel agents and host agencies. Click here to read Ms. Lee’s article.