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Be Careful If Travel Deal Sounds Too Good to Be True

Most industry insiders wisely advise that if a bargain travel offer looks too good to be true, it probably is. If the deal is unbelievable, don’t believe it. That’s all you need to know to steer clear of what has become a continually growing, and disturbing, trend in the travel business – the travel scam.

It takes a variety of forms. One of the most widely known and advertised is the $30-49 Hawaiian vacation. Callers who responded to the ads were told that they would receive a voucher good for two round-trip air fares to Hawaii for their $48.00 (with postage and handling). All they had to do was stay seven nights in a hotel and book the stay – through the travel broker that placed the ads – 45 days in advance.

The actual cost of the trip was upward (often well upward) of $1.000.

While few who took the trips had any complaints, the total price they paid was not much different from the cost of any number of similar packages offered by a number of travel retailers. And in a period of deep-discount air fares – when some very inexpensive travel packages are available – it is often difficult to discern whether a travel bargain is really a bargain or simply a stroll down the garden path.

All travel scams appeal to the same human weakness: the desire to get something for nothing, or as near to nothing as possible. It may be a weekend in Cancun for the price of a bus ticket to Cincinnati. Or it may instead be your singular chance to throw some money down a rat hole and then sit around for months before discovering that fact.

And by the time you’ve discovered it, it’s probably too late to do much about it. Besides, the amount involved may not seem all that large; certainly not large enough to hire a lawyer and go after the perpetrators.

Some of the most prolific of those perpetrators are operating out of California, which is one reason that the office of the California attorney general has been very busy investigating consumer complaints and following up with lawsuits.

When the buyer makes a selection, he or she is often told that those dates are booked and to make other selections. This can go on for months until, in many cases, the buyer gives up. At that point, many disappointed buyers just eat their losses’ such consumer-protection matters from the attorney general’s office.

“It’s where you buy a certificate for a vacation, generally to Mexico, but sometimes to other resort areas,” experts say. “The certificates are sold by a couple of companies, usually through distributors around the country. They are way oversold and usually for an amount of money that makes it not financially feasible. The certificate usually gives the purchaser the option of picking a primary date to travel and two alternate dates – but only after a 45- to 60-day waiting period.

People would buy the certificates for $200 or $300, then were told to send (an additional) $200 to Resort Vacations, $150 of which was to be refunded after they took the trip.

While some certificate buyers took the trips offered and received the refunds, many were frustrated by the delays and “fully booked” dates, and sought help from authorities.

But even you call the Better Business Bureau, and they may have no complaints. So the company can seem on the up and up. They may offer testimonials that profess “It was too good a deal to pass up, and I can’t tell you how many people I told about it.”

So how do consumers avoid travel scams?

o Don’t be pressured on the phone. Get in writing exactly what the trip will cost, what the terms and conditions are and what dates are available.

o Don’t give out your credit-card number over the phone.

o Ask for references from people in your area who have traveled with the packager – not those who have merely bought the package, but those who have actually made the trip.

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