Here’s how it usually starts: You get a phone call from a travel club informing you that you’ve won the top prize in their contest. You’re so excited at the news of winning that it doesn’t occur to you that you never entered the contest to begin with.
Other times, you’re shopping around for vacation ideas when those glossy brochures, low-cost travel deals and travel clubs begin to tempt you. Either way, the advice is the same: Be a careful consumer by getting it in writing and checking out the details of any travel offer before paying anything.
Many travel packages are legitimate and offer a good service and a good value. However, many persons have found themselves targeted by an increasing number of travel clubs and vacation scams.
There are a variety of travel scams making the rounds. Many of them pressure residents into joining travel clubs with inducements such as free prizes and discounted vacation rates. The problem with many of these offers is that the memberships fees can be very expensive and not worth the cost of joining, the prizes are worthless or come with so many restrictions on when you can travel that they are virtually uncollectible.
Other problems that have been reported: The discounts aren’t what was promised, accommodations sometimes are substandard or the deals are stacked with hidden charges such as airfare, departure taxes, transfer fees, administrative costs or upgrade fees. Here are some tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of a travel scam:
Beware of solicitors who insist that you must rush you decision or that this is your last chance to decide. High-pressure sales tactics requiring an immediate decision is characteristic of a scam. Any offer that’s only good for one day is probably a scam.
Insist on written verification before you book your travel plans. Read the verification carefully.
Be wary of membership benefits that sound too good to be true.
Stay away from companies that appear to have no permanent address. One indication of this is when all presentations or meetings are held in rented conference rooms.
Ask about any extra charges, such as port taxes or service fees.
Beware of notifications claiming you have won a "free" trip. Often, these "free" trips include hidden costs or require expensive purchases. Prizes should not include fees or processing charges.
Beware of solicitors who describe the details of the membership in overly broad and general terms and will only provide you with a contract for your review after you’ve signed something.
Beware of solicitors who won’t give you the name of the cruise line, hotel, or airline included in a travel package.
Be suspicious of companies that require you to wait at least 60 days before taking your trip.
Make sure you are aware of any restrictions. Generally, the best travel deals are only available for off-peak times. You may find it difficult to get the promised price for the dates that you want to travel.
Request full, written disclosure of the seller’s refund and cancellation policies.
If you decide to take advantage of a special travel offer, don’t pay for the package until you receive complete details about it in writing.
Pay with a credit card so you can dispute the charges if the promises aren’t kept.
When in doubt, book your vacation through a well-established travel agency.
Remember: Other than hanging up, the best way to defend yourself against questionable calls is to ask the caller to send you information in writing. The use of high-pressure sales tactics often is the sign of a con artist at work.