It’s that time of the year again – time for a nice, stress-free trip away from the cold.
But beware: Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or a weeklong tropical vacation, if you’re not careful, travel scams could leave you broke and less than relaxed. Many of these scams are posted in the halls of school buildings, sandwiched in-between legitimate offers and appear oh-so-tempting because of their low prices. But don’t be fooled! According to the Better Business Bureau, these bogus offers con vacationers out of an average of $10 billion annually. So, do some research before you fork over your cash.
Parents are always telling us, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Well, now’s the time to heed their advice. Pay attention to how the deal was presented to you; if you get an email offer, a phone offer, or a flyer in the mail, it’s probably bogus.
Another type of scam making its way around is the “you have won an all-inclusive vacation” as a result of a sweepstakes you never actually signed up for. Usually, the end result of these scams is that whenever you’re ready to take your vacation, the travel company you have booked through has mysteriously disappeared.
These scams sometimes seem like great deals, but they aren’t. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) have a few tips to help you avoid bogus travel packages and find the real deal:
- Check out the operator. Avoid high-pressure sales pitches for school break packages. Ask the operator to send you information about the business and a list of satisfied customers.
- Check with local travel agents to see if the operator is legitimate.
- Read the fine print. Get a copy of the operator/participant contract. This will tell you the conditions under which the operator can change flight schedules (usually charters can be canceled for any reason by the operator up until 10 days before the trip), hotel accommodations (operators may put you up in an alternate hotel listed in the operator contract that is not as nice as the hotel advertised in the package materials), and the rules and penalties for cancellations. Ask about cancellation insurance.
- Rules state that an operator cannot ask for or accept your payment until you have signed and returned the contract.
- Understand your rights. Department of Transportation rules state that you have a right to cancel a charter package without penalty if the operator makes a “major change.” These include a change of departure or return date or city, a hotel substitution to a property not named in the charter operator/participant contract, or a package price increase of more than 10 percent.
- Pay by credit card. This gives you more protection than using cash or a check/debit card. If you pay by check/debit card for a charter package, make sure it’s payable to an escrow account (as required by federal law for charters) and call the bank handling the account to verify its validity. Be wary of charter operators who are reluctant to provide escrow bank information- they may be selling another firm’s space- or who tell you they’ll send a courier to pick up your money.
- If you pay for a scam package with a check/debit card, congratulations, chances are you just became another victim of identity theft. Hope you like dealing with your credit card company, bank and federal government. As for cash? Well, you’re never seeing it again.
A good resource for checking out a company’s credibility is the Better Business Bureau website, www.bbb.org. This website allows visitors to enter the company name and address and read reviews, complaints, contact information and more. The website also offers an easy-to-understand grading system for companies from A to F. Just take a gander before you commit to any companies and keep these tips in mind when you’re making your spring break plans.
It would be awful to have an amazing vacation planned, brag about it to your friends, spend a lot of money on it, and have it turn out to be a scam.
Kimberly Wilson is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.