Buyer beware! Both the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission have issued warnings about vacation fraud. By some estimates, this type of scam costs travelers over $10 billion each year. How do you know whether you’re dealing with a legitimate travel agent or a huckster? Here are pointers:
- Do your research. Get contact information for hotels, rental car companies, and airlines; then confirm reservations and prices directly. Research properties on the Internet before you travel. (Is that “five-star hotel” really near the beach?) Check out the Better Business Bureau. Although bad companies may not always appear on BBB radar, a history of complaints is a tip-off that you’re dealing with a less-than-reputable firm.
- Get it in writing. Obtain a copy of the firm’s cancellation and refund policies. Get written confirmation of your travel arrangements. Read the fine print, especially verbiage about availability of travel dates and additional charges.
- Beware the bait and switch. You don’t want to learn the hard way that “luxury” has an unexpected definition. In one scam, a “luxury” Caribbean cruise booked for dollars a day was actually a six-hour ferry ride. In another, a “luxury” hotel was located next to the city dump. Of course, the travel company will be glad to move you to better accommodations – for a hefty fee.
- Say “no” to high-pressure sales tactics. If the salesperson says you’re missing the deal of a lifetime and you’re a fool to pass it up, walk away. Reputable firms want your business and will be happy to let you think over an offer.
- Pay with a credit card. If a company asks for an overnight payment or cash in advance, go elsewhere. Legitimate companies will bill your credit card in the normal course of business. In addition, your card offers travel protection such as accident insurance.
The idea of saving money can be alluring. But remember that “too good to be true” is a cliché for a reason. Don’t let fraudsters take your dream vacation.