Travel Scams

Top Five Red Flags
Your Travel Deal is a Travel Steal

By Marianne Schwab | Best Travel Deals Tips Blog

Everyone wants to find a great travel deal, but how do you spot a travel deal from a travel scam? Pre-payment usually is required for travel products and that is why scam artists often concentrate on travelers. The Internet has also provided growth opportunities for such illegal and unethical activity.

According to the Better Business Bureau, vacation scams cost unsuspecting travelers over $10 billion each year through deceptive travel related offers. So what’s the truth behind deals that sound too good to be true? How do you spot the vacation scams and know if the deal is real? I’ve put together a list of red flags to look out for when booking a travel deal to make sure it’s not a travel steal plus I have travel advice on how to protect your vacation purchase from a travel scam.

1. Do Not Purchase a Vacation from Unsolicited Emails, Faxes, or ANY Third Party. Hundreds of thousands of these emails and faxes are sent to workplaces every day. Consumers jump at the low price travel deal, thinking their company is getting a special corporate discount. When they call about the trip, they're hit with a slick, high-pressure sales pitch. If the person on the other end of the phone says, "You got to book now, I need your credit card right now, or else you're going to lose this trip," that is a red flag. Do not purchase from these offers that aren’t from reputable travel sites or travel expert subscription lists you’ve opted into. Also, beware of purchasing anything through a third party, like travel ads on Craiglist that are through someone wanting to sell a trip. These are generally not transferable and you will get scammed.

2. Buyer Beware of Deceptive Pricing. You need to know the real price of a trip and that means you need to know the final price. Airlines, hotels, car rental companies and cruise lines all have some “deceptive” pricing practices in that their advertised price does not include taxes and fees. If you look at any major airline ad, you will probably see some too good to be true airfares. The deception is in the fine print as the advertised prices are for one-way fares based on round-trip purchases. Airlines are the worst offenders these days as their prices also now do not include the cost of luggage, meals, and other items that used to be included in the price of the ticket.

The most deceptive pricing comes when travel companies advertise and incredible travel deal and when you call to get the deal that is advertised you find out it’s already sold out but they’ll upsell you another trip that is still available from a few hundred dollars more (and usually a few hundred dollars more per person). These travel companies know that once they have you on the line that you want to book a trip and usually a few hundred dollars will not be a deal breaker.

You also want to look out when a price is far below market value, but you need to look at this on a case-by-case basis. There are rare mistake fares that should be booked, but $199 for a one-week vacation in the Caribbean clearly is not going to be profitable for the vendor so why would they make the offer or advertise this deal? Look out as you be a prime target for a high-pressure time share sales pitch.

Another scam is that the fine print says $199 is the base price from which add-ons will be assessed after you've paid. No travel vendor wants to lose money without gaining some other advantage in the process. This is also known as “split pricing” which is the practice of offering below-market pricing and then adding charges for items that appeared to be included in the first quote. Reputable firms will offer vacations "starting at" a certain price, and show you all the upgrades. Scammers bury their pricing structure in the fine print. You may not find out until you’ve arrived at your dream vacation destination on your incredible travel deal that your hotel is 10 miles from the beach or your ski chalet is 30 miles from the actual ski slopes.

3. You’ll Probably Pay More for Your Vacation with Timeshares and Discount Travel Clubs. Did you know that 90% of people who buy timeshares never use them? Timeshares are usually a bad idea and most of you probably know the people marketing timeshares are slick. Most timeshare offers are made while you are already on vacation, relaxed and your guard is down. Very simply, never agree to a meeting or a timeshare presentation. Ask that any information be sent to you. Once in a presentation, you have put yourself in physical and fiscal danger.

I met a lady the other night who had just purchased a timeshare in New York City for $13,000 plus $800 a year in dues and she was bragging about her incredible deal because she could leave it to her children and grandchildren. How little she knew she’d been scammed. I lived in the Big Apple for eight years and I can visit New York every year for thirteen years for a week and not have to pay that amount of money.

Here's another scam to be aware of and that is the discount travel club. If a travel club is asking for more than a few hundred dollars for membership, they are probably scamming you. Travel clubs should be geared towards true discounts or added value, social engagement and any dues or membership paid should be reasonable and cover only the true costs. They should also offer a discounted menu of trips only available to members. The scam happens when many clubs charge thousands of dollars and offer a substandard vacation product.

4. Look Out for Offers to Make You a "Travel Agent." “Be a Travel Agent” scams are running rampant now and they work like this: once you pay a fee to a company, it will issue “credentials” allowing you access to travel agent freebies and discounts and commissions on selling travel. It's true some travel agents get these perks, but the offers go to established agents who are strategically chosen. Some of these “Be A Travel Agent” offers send you course materials, others just require a "fee" for "certification." Both are a complete waste of money. The most important thing that you need to know is that in order to sell travel and be recognized by a travel supplier, you need to be affiliated with either a travel agency or be registered as an independent seller of travel with either the Cruise Lines International Association or the International Association of Travel Agent Network. So those offers for free travel agent discounts without getting the proper credentials fall under the old axiom, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

5. Hotel Names, Airlines or Other Vendors Not Disclosed in Writing. Online auctions like Priceline and Hotwire do not disclose vendors until after your bid is accepted. That's part of the risk you take in saving money with those services. But if you're booking a trip in a conventional way, there is no reason whatsoever for withholding this information. If hotel, airline, or car rental information is not disclosed, end the discussion and shop elsewhere.

Now that you know five red flags to look for in vacation scams, find out what tips you need to know when purchasing a vacation so you don't become a victim of travel scams.

Travel Tip
You can save up to $525 when you book your flight and hotel together at Expedia.com!

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