We’re all looking for great travel deals. Unfortunately, this makes us vulnerable to travel scams.
Consider the case of a lady from Tennessee. An incredible deal was delivered to work. It looked like the same letterhead used by the company’s travel department. She assumed that the offer of a deeply discounted trip was some kind of advantage for the company, and she quickly booked it. Unfortunately, the promises of five-star tropical luxury “for a small management fee” disappeared as quickly as her money did.
This is one of many case studies from the swollen travel scam file at the US Federal Trade Commission. Go to his counterpart agencies in other industrialized nations and you’ll probably find similar collections of scam stories.
At a time when everyone is trying to find the best travel destination, dozens of unscrupulous traders will try to separate you from your money. They will provide, at best, disappointing deals.
Types of scams
Some of the most common travel scams leave you with nothing. Others promise you great things and deliver trash. However, others undertake to keep their promises if you pay additional expenses, which can cost double or even triple what you initially paid for. Others will deliver their holiday offer to the Bahamas, and nothing else.
Consider the story of a couple in Missouri: they were promised a luxury hotel. What they received was a room without air conditioning, concrete floors and no access to the beach. “The whole vacation experience was a nightmare and absolutely nothing of what the company represented,” the woman told the Federal Trade Commission.
Some of the scam artists use a technique called “split pricing”. They will offer flights and accommodation at prices well below market levels, but there will be fine print rates that more than offset the savings.
Others will mention a luxury hotel, but hide the fact that an expensive add-on surcharge is required before check-in.
Despite the efforts of government agencies such as the FTC, the travel industry is very little regulated. Anyone can hang a sign in front of their door and sell travel products. If you have access to a fax, phone or email device, you can send out reminders.
How to detect a scam
The vast majority of these “deals” share similar characteristics, making them quite easy to identify and ultimately to avoid.
Pressure to book quickly. If you’ve ever bought a car, you’ve probably heard the irritating question “what can I do to get you on this vehicle today?” The idea is to close the deal before a buyer can object. It’s not always a dishonest ploy, but in the travel arena you should raise the red flag of caution. Interestingly, many of these immediate arrangements often involve trips lasting at least two months in the future. Why is that? Many credit cards have a 60-day limit for shopping challenges. They want you to recognize your destiny only after the time is up.
Using courier services. Another red flag should fly when the company wants to do business only with courier services. Many times, the goal is to avoid the postal fraud statutes associated with postal services.
Names aren’t the same. Here is another common sign of problems: when the names of the seller and the travel service provider differ. In that case, you are likely to be dealing with a seller or other intermediary who does not have your best interests at heart.
Long and multiple delivery delays should raise your suspicion of scam.
How to avoid scams
– Before purchasing, consider the following checklist, compiled by the FTC, the Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Consumer Protection. The FTC offers an online complaint form. But keep in mind that no one can offer recovery guarantees after you’ve been dumped.
– Always use a credit card. This gives you the opportunity to challenge fraudulent charges through your credit card company. You should never give your card number to someone who requires you to verify your identity. Provide the number only for actual orders.
– Learn vocabulary. How many times have you received the following email? “You have been specially selected to receive our spectacular luxury travel offer.” Read it several times and ask the following questions: Why are you special? What is the spectacular trip like? What elements make a luxury trip? These are words designed to attract your attention, not necessarily to accurately describe the services.
– Check the details of your trip. When they say the hotel is five-star quality, ask for the name and address. With the Internet at your disposal, it’s quite easy to control any hotel. End the offer if you don’t provide it. The same goes for airlines, tours, cruise ships and any other products. Respectable companies do not hesitate to provide this information. Also check the company’s track record. Local authorities should have lists of companies that attract the most complaints.
– Run from Instant Travel Agent offers. A common scam is to sell so-called certification as a travel agent. This, you will be told, will allow you to take advantage of professional discounts and free travel. The problem with this is that professional discounts are not mandatory. Suppliers decide when and to whom they extend price interruptions. Some of these so-called offers are multilevel marketing scams. Bad news. Don’t be fooled.
– Pay attention to the word “complementary”. Think about why you’re being offered something for free. Many times, the idea is to provide a captive audience for hours of sales presentations. Do you want to spend your precious holidays listening to these camps? Since many are structured to make you feel obligated, and most are very high pressure presentations, you may not only waste your precious time but end up buying something you don’t really want.