The brochure or e-mail promises luxurious, sunny getaways at bargain prices or even a free vacation.
Sound too good to be true? It usually is, travel experts say.
Although many travel packages offered are from legitimate suppliers, a small number are from unscrupulous dealers trying to rip off unsuspecting families.
Travel-scam operators use many different techniques to lure victims, including postcards, direct mail letters, expensive 900-telephone numbers and false advertising. Many vacation certificates tempt consumers with fabulous offers but fall short on delivering the package as promised - usually by providing poor quality conditions and limited availability.
Consumers receiving direct mail should be wary of being "specially selected to receive a free trip," which may include hidden, expensive costs or requirements to buy high-priced products.
Other questionable offers may include multi-day travel packages that are greatly over-priced when costs are figured separately.
Consumers should also be cautious of high-pressure sales tactics requiring an on-the-spot decision, such as a pitch to buy time share properties and other similar offers. Consumers should ask for detailed, written information, compare that to what the salesperson promised, then contact the airline, hotel or cruise line directly to see what kind of deal they are offering.
Travel experts recommend these additional consumer tips to avoid being a travel-scam victim:
Before you go
- Be skeptical if the offer sounds too good to be true. It's always best to book your vacation through a well-established travel agency.
- Use extreme caution when giving your credit card or checking account number over the phone. Exceptions are when you initiate the transaction or when you are familiar with the company and have verified the legitimacy of the travel package.
- During the sales pitch, ask for a full disclosure of the cancellation policy, including timing and special conditions. In some states, you have seven days to cancel upon receipt of the certificate.
- Ask about extra charges, including port taxes, service charges or single supplements - most stays (hotel/cruise/tour) are based on double occupancy.
- Insist upon receiving written verification of all aspects of the travel package before you book. Read the small print and asterisks. This documentation will be helpful if a dispute arises.
- Ask if the company participates in a consumer-protection plan through such organizations as the United States Tour Operators Association or the American Society of Travel Agents. Always consider purchasing insurance to protect your vacation plans.
- Reject any travel "prize" that requires you to pay a fee or processing charge. Check the company by contacting such sources as the local Better Business Bureau or consumer protection office or state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
- Once you have thoroughly checked out the company and the offer, and decide to book the trip, use a credit card. This documentation will be helpful if a dispute arises. Reconfirm the arrangements with the hotel, airline or cruise line to verify funds have been received and reservations are confirmed in your name.
During your trip
Once you've reached your final destination, there are a number of techniques that can be employed to help ensure safe and secure travel:
- Travel in groups when possible.
- When using a taxi, don't pay until the end of the trip.
- Don't wear excessive amounts of jewelry.
- Turn a large diamond ring around or put a band-aid over it to conceal it.
- Don't leave valuables unattended in a hotel or at the beach.
- Drink responsibly; don't leave drinks unattended.
- Have proper identification.
- Make a photo copy of everything in your wallet and your passport.