Summer is the season for travel. Unfortunately, it is not all sunscreen and postcards; vacation scams cost consumers over $10 billion each year. Whether you're planning an in-state relaxing weekend or an overseas exotic vacation, your Better Business Bureau provides the following travel tips.
Be aware of common scams.
Bait-and-switch. The deal sounds great and the location looks wonderful from the photos. The consumer pays upfront, but the accommodations don't match the advertised description. Don't let a price, sales person, ad or Web site alone convince you that it is a great deal.
Vacation prize. If you don't remember entering for the prize, you didn't win. These can be a full scam or a time-share gimmick.
Time-Shares. Ads for free or extremely discounted stays at 5-star hotels are often rip-offs or time-share sales pitches. Some time-share ads offer free deals to get consumers in the door. Be aware, you may have to commit to listening to a long presentation, stay at the time-share another time for a cost, or purchase a time-share, before getting the free offer. If considering purchasing a time-share: Get all details in writing; research the offer and surrounding time-shares before hearing the pitch; talk to current time-share owners; ask if descendants can inherit the time-share; understand restrictions on when and where you can stay; and consider extra travel expenses such as food and airfare. Don't feel pressured – consider the costs and gains before making a decision.
Travel Insurance. Not everyone needs travel insurance. If you do, understand the difference between protection plans and insurance plans. Insurance plans are regulated by states, protection plans are not. Scammers will try to sell protection plans as insurance plans. Read contracts thoroughly, make sure they include exactly what is covered. Make sure current homeowners or medical insurance doesn't already cover you.
Canceling Vacations Due to Swine Flu. If you booked a vacation to Mexico and wish to cancel or postpone it, check with your hotel or cruise line on their policy regarding cancelations due to the Swine Flu. Note: If you booked the trip with a travel agent you may have to follow their cancelation guidelines.
Your BBB provides the following travel tips to protect against travel scams:
- Pay with a credit card and avoid deals that require you to book 60 days in advance. Credit card companies may allow consumers to dispute a charge within 60 days of purchase. Representatives from eBay also caution consumers against paying with personal checks and strongly recommend paying with a method such as PayPal that has built-in protection measures. Be careful with your credit card, if you didn't initiate the call, don't give the information.
- Ask detailed questions and get answers in writing. Get names of airlines, hotels, car rental companies and travel providers. Consider contacting these businesses directly to verify arrangements. Always ask for confirmation of your travel arrangements in writing and ensure you receive copies of cancellation and refund policies.
- Online security. Before making a purchase online, make sure the Web address has an "s" in "https" and look for a lock box next to the Web address bar or in the bottom right of the window.
- Verify legitimacy. Verify the business is properly licensed. Get a BBB Reliability Report at www.bbb.org or 562-0704.
- Contact BBB if you are a victim of fraud. Your BBB helps consumers and businesses through complaint and dispute resolution services. Victims of travel-related scams can file a complaint at www.bbb.org. Ultimately, consumer complaints expose bad businesses and help other consumers avoid becoming victims of vacation fraud.
About your BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington:
Your Better Business Bureau is a not-for-profit organization funded by Better Business Bureau Accredited Businesses. The BBB's mission is to be the leader in advancing marketplace trust. For more information about the services and products provided by your BBB, call 206-431-2222 or 253-830-2924 in Washington, 503-212-3022 in Oregon, 907-562-0704 in Alaska, or visit our Web site at www.bbb.org.