The holiday travel period is expected to follow the same pattern as the chaotic summer, and you should expect a few surprises. You can’t predict them, but you can prepare for them and that includes avoiding scams.
With flights, rental cars and lodging all increasing, people will be looking for “deals.” You may get a call, a text message or a flyer in the mail. Or maybe you may see an online ad promising “free” or low-cost vacations.
Dishonest people are often behind these offers. You may end up paying hidden fees — or worse, after you pay, you might find it’s all a scam.
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Being a bargain hunter is wise, but being careful is smarter when there could be thousands of dollars on the line.
Travelers should be leery of free vacation offers, and robocalls offering vacation deals at discounted prices. Especially troublesome, vacation home scams — where the scammer hijacks real rental listings and advertise them as their own, or they make up listings that don’t exist.
Also, fake charter flights that may include lodging and sightseeing. After you pay for the package, you find it’s all a scam.
More often than not, there are many warning signs:
- A “free” vacation that you have to pay for. Scammers often try to get your attention by saying you won something, but then making you pay to get it. If you have to pay, it’s not free — and all those fees and taxes can add up to hundreds of dollars.
- You are not getting specific details about the travel offer. The offer says you’ll stay at a “five-star” resort or go on a cruise on a “luxury” ship. But if the organizer won’t or can’t give you more specific details, like the address of the hotel or the cruise company name, walk away.
- They say the only way to pay for your vacation rental is by wire transfer, gift card, or cryptocurrency. This is how scammers ask you to pay because once they’ve collected the money, it’s almost impossible to get it back.
- Pressure to make a quick decision about a vacation package or rental. If someone says you have to decide whether to buy a travel package or rent a vacation property right away, don’t do it. Scammers want to rush you. So, move on and find another option.
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Instead of falling for a scam, use the following recommendations to keep you and your family safe.
- Get recommendations from trusted sources. Talk to family and friends or other trusted sources about good travel agencies, vacation rentals, hotels, and travel packages.
- Consider using a travel app. Travel apps can help you search for airfares and hotel rates. Some of them give you fare alerts and real-time deals. But make sure you know whether you’re buying from the app company or the actual airline or resort. It can affect things like whether you can get a refund or get travel points.
- Use comparison websites and applications. When you shop for airfares, know that comparison websites and applications can charge more than the airline for services like changing or canceling a flight. Also, make sure you know whether you’re buying a ticket or just making a reservation.
- Ask about mandatory hotel “resort fees” and taxes. You can’t compare rates for different hotels unless you know about all the fees. If you’re not sure whether a hotel’s website is showing you the total price, call the hotel and ask about a “resort fee” or any other mandatory charge. Also, ask about taxes, which may be significant in many places.
- If you’re buying travel insurance, be sure the agency is licensed. Find out whether an agency is licensed at the website of the US Travel Insurance Association. Make a copy of your insurance card to take with you when you go on the trip.
Dennis Horton is director, of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau.