Advisory: Get What You Pay For
Whether you're planning to sun on the shores of St. Croix or ski the slopes of Zermatt,
it's wise to be an informed travel shopper. To help you avoid unpleasant and costly
surprises, the Federal Trade Commission offers these tips.
Try to buy your vacation travel package from a business you
know. If possible, deal with businesses that belong to professional associations
such as the American Society of Travel Agents, the
National Tour Association or the United States Tour
Operators Association. If you're not familiar with a company, get its complete name,
address and local telephone number.
Be cautious if the names of the seller and travel provider
differ. You may be dealing with a telemarketer who has no responsibility to you
after the sale. And be wary of ads in the newspaper, on the Internet or that you receive
by unsolicited fax that offer deeply discounted vacations. These "deals" often
contain hidden costs or don't tell you that you may have to attend a sales presentation to
qualify for the discount or the travel. Avoid buying from a firm that wants to send a
courier for your payment or asks you to send your payment by overnight delivery. The
business may be trying to avoid detection and charges of mail or wire fraud.
Verify arrangements with your travel agent before you pay.
Get the details of your vacation in writing and a copy of the cancellation and refund
policies. Ask if the business has insurance and whether you should buy cancellation
insurance. Get the names, addresses and telephone numbers for the lodgings, airlines and
cruise ships you'll be using. Don't accept vague terms such as "major hotels" or
"luxury cruise ships." Call to verify specific reservations, too.
Use a credit card to make your purchase. If you don't
get what you paid for, you may be able to dispute the charges with your credit card
company. Some telemarketers may claim they need your account information for
identification or verification. They don't. Your account number should be used only to
bill you for goods and services.
Be wary of prepaying for long-term arrangements.
Timeshares, campgrounds or travel clubs may offer to sell membership vacation
accommodations for five years or more, or until you resell your interest. Unless you're
certain you'll stay healthy, both physically and financially, and that the company selling
the memberships will stay in business, prepaid vacations may not be right for you. In
addition, annual membership and maintenance fees may rise. If the seller claims the fees
will stay the same, beware. Beautiful properties today may be run-down in five or 10 years
without sufficient maintenance. If you decide to buy a timeshare or membership in a
vacation club, be aware that resales are difficult, if not impossible, because there's no
secondary market. As for timeshares as investments: they rarely appreciate in value.
Learn the vocabulary. "You have been specially
selected to receive our SPECTACULAR LUXURY DREAM VACATION offer" doesn't mean you'll
get a free vacation. It means you'll be offered an opportunity to pay for a trip that may
fit your idea of luxury - or not. "Subject to availability" means you may not
get the accommodations you want when you want them. "Blackout periods" are
blocks of dates, usually around holidays or peak season, when no discount travel is
Watch out for "instant travel agent" offers.
Companies may offer to sell you identification that will "guarantee" you
discounted rates. These companies have no control over discounts. Only suppliers of travel
- cruise lines, hotel companies, car rental companies, or airlines - can decide to extend
professional courtesies, and to whom.
The FTC works for the consumer to
prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the
marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and
avoid them. To file a
complaint or to get free information
on consumer issues, visit
call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The
FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related
Consumer Sentinel, a
secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law
enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
FOR THE CONSUMER