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.
For example, you might receive an authentic looking check
for $1,200. When you call the promoter to redeem your money, the promoter may
inform you that in order to validate your vacation certification, there are
requirements such as attending a sales seminar or joining a vacation club. The
promoter may entice you to a seminar with offers of prizes, or to “validate”
your vacation certificate, but these are just opportunities to sell you more
services of questionable value. Consumers who attend such presentations may
find themselves pressured to pay processing fees or make additional purchases
in order to try and collect the certificate or voucher.
If you are offered a prize or gift for attending a sales
presentation, ask to receive the prize or gift before the sales presentation begins.
Be cautious of cashing any promotional check received.
Cashing the check may commit you to join the vacation club, or incur additional
Also be aware of any attempt to disguise a vacation club
offer as a “travel package.” A travel package, offered by a legitimate travel
agent, is a package of services put together for you, with costs and an
itinerary fully disclosed. This is different from a vacation certificate or
voucher, which represent that they are worth part or all of a vacation, but
require you to make contact (and most always pay more) to actually receive the
“Bonus coupons” or the addition of “special offers” can be
another ploy to lure participants. Often times these enticements are readily
available for free to anyone visiting the vacation area.
Complaints on file show many vacation promoters misrepresent
the terms and conditions of vacations, fail to give refunds, or go out of
The number of complaints against a promoter can be found by
contacting the Bureau of Consumer Protection. Caution is needed when there are
no records of complaints, as many of the problem promoters frequently change
their names and locations.
Signs of a scam
A legitimate company will not ask you to pay for a prize. Do
not sign for, pay, or use any part of an offer before getting all the details
The goal of many of these schemes is to obtain a deposit,
signature, or partial usage of service prior to releasing the full details of
the offer. Any prior action of acceptance or commitment can make cancellation
more difficult even if the details were not fully disclosed. Do not rely on
partial information from a post card, flyer, or verbal presentation.
Never provide credit/debit card, checking, banking or
savings account information without a careful review of all written specifics
and details. Financial information is needed to make a charge or withdrawal,
but it is not required to verify identity or to consider a written vacation
offer. If financial information is given, using a credit card provides
additional protections, both against unauthorized charges and for potential
chargebacks if the offer turns out to be fraudulent.
A vacation offer usually comes unexpectedly, via a
“cold-call”, text, email, or mail solicitation. Before you do business with any
company you do not know, call the business’s home state consumer protection
agency to check on complaints. Also search online by entering the company name
and the word “complaints” or “scam” and read what other people are saying.
Full cost disclosure
Ask about all taxes, administration fees, transportation,
meals, or other handling fees and expenses. Get specifics – “meals included”
may mean a doughnut and cup of coffee on two of the mornings. Get everything in
Ask for a
breakdown of all additional out of pocket costs or verification of items or
services included at no additional costs. A “free” vacation with additional
costs is not “free”.
cancellation, refund, and rescheduling policies. Get specifics in writing,
because the offer may allow the promoter to keep some or all of any payments
availability of vacation destinations and available time frame. The “catch” may
be that desirable locations or rates are essentially impossible to secure.
required to attend a sales presentation? If so, how many, how long are they,
and for what purpose? Be prepared for high pressure and lengthy pitches on
topics like timeshares, travel clubs, or other products, investments, or
“catch” is that two people are required to travel together, but the second
person’s costs are mostly or entirely excluded from the vacation offer or
voucher. The second person, and their costs, subsidize the first person’s offer
and earn the promoter an overall profit.
They promise a stay at a “five star” resort or cruises on a
“luxury” ship. The more vague the promises, the less likely they will be true.
Ask for specifics and get them in writing.
restrictions in writing – travel, lodging, or other vacation offerings may be
prohibited on holidays, weekends, prime tourist periods, or around other
attractions or events.
exact name, address, phone number and room accommodations of the hotel you will
be staying at. Assurance of “first class” accommodations does not guarantee a
good location close to other attractions or activities.
all the details you would receive for an actual travel package, such as flight
details/seat number, dates and times of meals, events, activities, check-in,
check-out, ground transportation, and free time.