Whether you are off to see the sights, ski the slopes, or
sunbathe on the sand, it pays to be an informed travel shopper. To help you
avoid vacation frustration, the Bureau of Consumer Protection offers these
recommendations. Ask family and friends to recommend businesses with a good
and clarify. Call to verify your reservations and arrangements. Get the details
behind vague promises that you will be staying at a “five-star” resort or
sailing on a “luxury” cruise ship. When you have the names, addresses and
telephone numbers of the airlines, car rental companies, and hotels you will be
using, confirm all arrangements for yourself.
Put it on
paper. Get the details of your vacation in writing. Get a copy of the company’s
cancellation and refund policies before you pay for the trip, and ask “What
if...?” Consider whether some form of travel cancellation insurance may be
appropriate. Make sure the product you purchase is from a licensed insurance
company. The U.S. Travel Insurance Association (www.ustia.org) maintains a list
of licensed travel insurance companies.
credit card. It gives you more protection than paying by cash or check. If you
do not get what you paid for, you may be able to dispute the charges with your
credit card company. However, do not give your account number to any business
until you have verified that it is reputable.
questions before joining a travel club. Sometimes a “free trial” membership can
result in monthly charges on your credit card. Find out what you will get for
your money and how you can cancel.
using a travel app. A travel app can help you search for airfares and hotel
rates, get fare alerts and real-time deals, and manage your itinerary.
mandatory hotel “resort fees.” When you book a hotel room online, you expect
that the rate you see is the rate you will pay. But extra costs often called
“resort fees” – for services like fitness facilities or internet access – can
add to the per night cost of your stay. More importantly, the fees are mandatory:
you must pay them regardless of whether you use the services. Many people do
not find out about the fees until they arrive at the hotel – or worse, when
they check out. You cannot compare rates for different hotels unless you know
all the fees. If you are not sure whether a website is showing you the total
price, call the hotel and ask about a “resort fee” or any other mandatory
charge. Listing the “resort fee” near the quoted price or in the fine print –
or referring to other fees that “may apply” – is not good enough.
Be on the
alert for the telltale signs of a travel scam. Vacation promotions offering trips to tropical paradises, exotic cruises, gambling trips, or exciting locations are made through mailings, telephone calls, media advertisements, websites, or emails. Unfortunately, consumers usually find out the hard way that they have been provided a vacation certificate or voucher rather than a free vacation. A vacation certificate or voucher is usually just a piece of paper with no value outside of the business's solicitation. In most cases, the promoter uses the certificate or voucher as a sales gimmick to get you to make a purchase, attend a sales presentation, or commit to a membership contract. Think twice if you cannot get to a person on the phone to answer your questions or if the ad does not give the company's street address.
Signs of a scam
Scammers may call or use mail, texts, faxes or ads promising
free or low-cost vacations. In reality, those vacation offers may end up
charging poorly disclosed fees or may be fake, plain and simple. Here are some
tell-tale signs that a travel offer or prize might be a scam:
a free vacation” but you have to pay some fees first. A legitimate company will
not ask you to pay for a prize. Any company trying to sell you on a “free”
vacation will probably want something from you – taxes and fees, attendance at
mandatory presentations, even pressure to buy “extras” or “add-ons” for the
vacation, etc. Find out what your costs are before you agree to anything.
company wants your credit card number. Especially if they say it is to “verify”
your identity or your prize, do not give it to them.
cold-call, cold-text, or email you out of the blue. Before you do business with
any company you do not know, call the Attorney General and local consumer
protection agencies in the company’s home state to check on complaints; then,
search online by entering the company name and the word “complaints” or “scam”
and read what other people are saying. Robocalls from companies trying to sell
you something are almost always illegal if you have not given the company
written permission to call you. That is true even if you have not signed up for
the national Do Not Call Registry.
not – or cannot – give you specifics. They promise a stay at a “five-star”
resort or a cruise on a “luxury” ship. The more vague the promises, the less
likely they will be true. Ask for specifics, and get them in writing. Check out
the resort’s address; look for photos of the ship.
pressured to sign up for a travel club for great deals on future vacations. The
pressure to sign up or miss out is a signal to walk away. Travel clubs often
have high membership fees and limited choice of destinations or travel dates.
The lodging industry is becoming stricter with its reservation
rules. And you may encounter the following problems, especially in large
forfeit your deposit upon canceling a reservation.
billed for a room even though you did not use it.
receiving the services or amenities that were advertised or represented.
billed at higher room rates than the “special rate” advertised or quoted.
Consumer complaints are often the result of lack of
disclosure or miscommunication between the business and the consumer. Policies
vary. So ask questions when you reserve a room, request all your reservation
information in writing. Remember: if a lodge holds a room for you and you do
not cancel in advance, you will likely be charged a fee. Lodges that reserve by
the week may impose higher cancellation or no-show fees. By canceling well in
advance, the traveler will avoid fees and keep the lodge from losing business.
Confirm the current room rate at the time you make the
reservation to avoid potential misunderstandings at check-in/check-out. Ask for
written confirmation verifying the rate once you make your reservation.
Coupons, special offers & gift certificates
When reserving a room using a coupon, special offer, gift
certificate or membership discount, be sure you tell the reservation clerk.
Read the coupon, special offer, gift certificate or membership discount offer
carefully for any special conditions or limitations on its use and application.
Prior to giving out your credit card number, ask about the cancellation
policy and request a written copy be mailed to you. Make sure you understand
whether the room will be held or guaranteed with your credit card number. If
you cancel the room reservation, be sure to ask for a cancellation number and
the name of the person who gave it to you.
Once you have made your reservation, many motels will assign
a confirmation number or will follow up with a confirmation letter or email. If
this is not automatically done, ask the reservation clerk for a confirmation
number and for a mailed card or email confirming your room, rate, length of
stay and the special amenities (fireplace, whirlpool, non-smoking). Even if you
are given a verbal confirmation number, you should also get it in writing. If
you do not receive any type of confirmation, be sure to call the motel and
reconfirm your reservation. (If the reservation is made just a few days in
advance, a mailed confirmation may not be available.)
Credit or charge card blocking
Be aware of credit or charge card “blocking.” “Blocking” is
not a practice initiated by the lodging industry but is the only way charge
card companies will ensure payment at check-out. The clerk contacts your credit
card company to give an estimated total. If the transaction is approved, your
available credit is reduced by that estimated amount. That is a “block.” Be
aware that if you use a different card or cash to pay your final bill, the
company that issued the card you used to check in might hold the block for up
to 15 days after you have checked out. That is because it was not notified of
the final charge and did not know you paid another way. This becomes a problem
if you are near your credit limit. It is not only embarrassing to have your
card declined, but if you have an emergency purchase to make you may not have
enough available credit. To avoid this, use the same card at departure to pay
your bill or be sure to ask the clerk to remove the “block” from the first card
you used when you leave.
(Information taken from the Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Alert, Travel Tips (05/13))