Need a vacation? Before you start relaxing to the sound of the waves or skiing the slopes, do some smart travel shopping first — not only to end up with a great trip and a good deal, but also to avoid a scam. Deal with businesses you trust, get a copy of the company’s cancellation and refund policies, and ask “What if…?” And if someone says you’ve won a “free” vacation but need to pay? Just walk away.
Get the details about any “five-star” resorts or “luxury” cruise ships they promise — including what other travelers have had to say about them. Some companies market below-average vacation accommodations as “luxury” or “five-star.” When you have the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the airlines, car rental companies, and hotels you’ll be using, confirm all arrangements yourself. If you can’t get a person from the travel company on the phone to answer your questions, consider taking your travel business elsewhere.
When you book a hotel room online, you expect that the rate you see is the rate you’ll pay. But extra costs often called “resort fees” — for services like fitness facilities or internet access — can add to the per night cost of your stay. More important, the fees are mandatory: you must pay them regardless of whether you use the services. Many people don’t find out about the fees until they arrive at the hotel — or worse, when they check out. You can’t compare rates for different hotels unless you know all the fees. If you’re not sure whether a website is showing you the total price, call the hotel and ask about a “resort fee” or any other mandatory charge. Listing the “resort fee” near the quoted price or in the fine print — or referring to other fees that “may apply” — isn’t good enough. If you find out a hotel hasn’t told you the whole story about mandatory fees, in addition to complaining to the company, file a complaint with the FTC.
The operator/participant contract tells you when the operator can change flight schedules and hotel accommodations, and the rules and penalties for cancellation. Usually, charters can be canceled for any reason up to 10 days before the trip, and operators may put you up in an another hotel listed in the contract, even if it’s not as nice as the advertised hotel. Ask about cancellation insurance. Rules state that an operator can’t ask for — or accept — your payment until you’ve signed and returned the contract.