By Catherine Blinder
Summer has finally arrived; students will soon be out of school, and people will be looking for ways to take a break from the daily grind!
Some people choose to take a short drive to a day at the beach, others look to nearby attractions, but for some of us, a vacation is only a true get-away if you get on a plane, bus or train to a destination that promises new adventures.
Unfortunately, there are people who take advantage of travelers and the desire to visit somewhere new and exciting.
Travel scams are common this time of year, and it’s important to know the signs of a scam, as opposed to a good deal!
And as we’ve said before in this column, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
Beware of “Travel Clubs,” or “Vacation-Buying Clubs”
If you receive a postcard in the mail, an email, a phone call or see an ad offering you a “one-time deal,” be cautious. Be especially cautious about anything that claims you’ve “won” or “were selected” for free airfare, hotel room or a cruise. Sometimes scammers will even use a valid airline, cruise or hotel image to make you think they are legitimate offers.
If you respond to the ad, phone call or email, you will hear promises that are tempting. This is when you may be asked to attend a “free seminar,” and if you do, you will be pressured to buy something – either a time share or an expensive “travel club.” Rather than what is promised, people have instead received:
- Travel vouchers that require you to pay hundreds of dollars in fees and taxes.
- A travel deal where the majority of dates are unavailable, or blocked.
- A travel deal that has so many restrictions that you cannot reasonably use it.
- A stay at a “luxury rental” that does not actually exist! (But they have your credit card number that you used for a guarantee.)
When looking at travel clubs, or vacation-buying clubs that offer discounts on future vacations for a time and place not yet decided, it is important to research the club and look online for recommendations or complaints. A simple internet search can provide a lot of information.
And if the salesperson is telling you that the deal will expire after today, don’t sign.
A real deal will still be there tomorrow, once you’ve had a chance to think about it.
We recommend that you don’t, but if you decide to proceed:
- Read the contract carefully, and have someone else you trust read it as well.
- Ask questions and demand specific answers.
- Ask about hidden fees. Generally, there will be a one-time sign-up fee and a recurring annual fee.
- Ask about your right to cancel. Be sure you know the cancellation policy and get it in writing. (You generally have a 3-day right to cancel the sale for a full refund. Always send your cancellation notice by certified mail, return receipt requested.)
- Ask about date restrictions, or “black-out” dates.
Travel agents still operate in many communities, and the advantage is that someone you know has probably worked with them and can provide you a reference. They know about special offers within the travel industry, particularly regarding foreign travel, and will often be able to find you the best deal.
In addition, many online sites, which are free, will provide you a broad range of information and give you more protection from scams and, like travel agents, they earn their commissions from the businesses you use, not you.
Among the most popular travel sites are Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak, Priceline, Airfare Watchdog, WhichBudget, TripAdvisor, CruiseCompete and WebFlyer.
These sites do all the work for you – comparing airfare, hotel prices, ground transportation, cruise line deals and other travel information.
We all work hard, and we deserve time to enjoy ourselves and our families, so to assure a successful vacation, one that is within your budget and hassle-free – do your research, talk to friends and family, and make smart decisions!
Boa Viagem, Buen Viaje, Bon Voyage and Safe Journeys!!
This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at www.ct.gov/dcp.