FAQs

The questions and answers below will provide you with additional information on the card mill phenomenon. Over the past few months, these companies have been cleverly clothing themselves with the trappings of respectability to avoid further scrutiny by the travel industry and consumer protection agencies.

After you read these FAQs, please use the links on the left hand side of this page to see what the legal profession, the Attorney Generals of several states and industry leaders have had to say about card mills.

What is a card mill?
Card mills are business entities that derive some portion of their revenue stream from recruiting people to be “travel agents” by promising discounted travel. Upon convincing the na├»ve consumer to part with an under-$500 investment (the $500 limit keeps these companies from being subject to more strict regulatory scrutiny), they wave a wand and deem the consumer a “travel agent.” An additional compensation is typically offered to recruit others to the program.
What is wrong with that?
It is dishonest and a fraud on consumers and travel companies. Firstly, travel agents work hard to continually educate themselves to build their business and to protect consumers. Travel agents book travel for third parties. Card mills, on the other hand, emphasize personal travel savings. However, this is misleading in the extreme. When travel agents receive familiarization trips or opportunities to travel from suppliers, it is as a result of travel volume, not simply as a “perk”. Card mills essentially ask their members to lie to suppliers about their involvement in the industry.
Why doesn’t the travel industry stop card mills?
The travel industry is trying, but every few years or so these companies spring back to life using new tactics. Currently there are a large number of card mills perpetrating their frauds on the public and on travel suppliers. Many major suppliers have quit doing business with the card mills. IATAN, an industry organization that certifies some travel agents, is likewise attempting to ferret out companies that are acting as card mills under the guise of legitimate travel agencies. However, the highly unregulated status of the travel industry makes it difficult to identify and report all of these companies. That is why this site and the American Society of Travel Agents are taking the fight to local communities.
I have been approached by a company that says for $449 a year I can be a travel agent and receive discounted travel. They say they have 35,000 travel agents and book $125,000,000 annually in travel. Is this a card mill?
Almost certainly. Note that if you divide the $125,000,000 by the number of agents, you get roughly $3,572 of travel booked by each agent. Naturally this is only an average number, but it certainly points to a discrepancy and indicates that most of the travel being booked is for the personal travel of the card mill’s members. By the way, the total savings and/or commissions on this travel, of which the card mill operation typically takes a cut, is probably $350 or so, not much of a “reward” for perpetrating a fraud on travel companies.
But this company lists some travel industry organizations on its website as proof they are legitimate. They even have a Better Business Bureau membership and a good rating.
It is an unfortunate circumstance that some travel industry organizations and even the BBB are not monitoring their affiliations very closely. They key test is not whether the card mill lists a membership in an organization, which is often just a matter of paying a fee. The true test is whether or not they are trying to convince you to give them money to make you a travel agent based on supposed savings you will achieve on your own travel.
Are all card mills pyramid schemes?
No. Some card mills do indeed utilize multi-level marketing programs but not all. There is usually some bonus for referring new victims, but not always.
One company indicates on its website that it is not a card mill. They claim they do not issue cards. Is this a card mill?
Are they promising a wonderful world of travel with very little work, and an at-home business in “the most exciting industry in the world” and great travel benefits? Then yes, they are a card mill.
How do traditional travel franchises and business opportunities differ from card mills?
There are legitimate business opportunities and franchises in the travel industry. However, the legitimate companies typically cost significantly more than $500 and are therefore subject to additional disclosure requirements, governmental regulation and oversight. Legitimate companies do not emphasize travel benefits over the hard work necessary to succeed. Because of their additional expense they include training programs and allow consumers additional time to investigate their programs. In all instances investigate any business opportunity and do not feel pressured into a decision.
But I want to be a travel agent! Where do I start?
The travel industry is a rewarding industry if you truly love travel, but it is hard work. Good travel agents are continually updating their skill and spend many hours on destination specialist courses and learning all the various aspects of becoming a travel agent. Start your research with the American Society of Travel Agents website, but don’t stop there. You may find community college courses being offered near you, a travel academy or a local store-front travel agency in your area that can assist you in learning more. We would also recommend to you books and training courses by Kelly Monaghan and Tom Ogg.

Use the links above to review information to evaluate whether a travel business opportunity you are considering is a legitimate company. Also, be sure to download this publication by the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) entitled “Travel Industry Card Mills: What Consumers and Consumer Protection Agencies Should Know About Travel Industry Card Mills”