Whether you’re off to see the sights, sunbathe on the sand, or ski the slopes, it pays to be an informed travel shopper. Get a copy of the company’s cancellation and refund policies, and ask “What if...?” Consider whether some form of travel cancellation insurance is appropriate.
Buy From Businesses You Know and Trust
Ask family and friends to recommend a company with a good track record. Think twice if you can’t get a person on the phone to answer your questions. Contact the state Attorney General and local consumer protection agency where you live and where the company is based to see if complaints are on file.
Call to verify your reservations and arrangements. Get the details behind vague promises that you’ll be staying at a “five-star” resort or sailing on a “luxury” cruise ship. 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.
Get a copy of the company’s cancellation and refund policies, and ask “What if...?” Consider whether some form of travel cancellation insurance is appropriate. Make sure the product you’re being sold is a licensed insurance policy. The U.S. Travel Insurance Association maintains a list of licensed travel insurance companies.
Pay by credit card. It gives you more protection than cash or a check. If you don’t get what you paid for, you may be able to dispute the charges with your credit card company. However, don’t give your account number to any business until you’ve verified that it is reputable.
Consider using a travel app. Travel apps can help you search for airfares and hotel rates, get fare alerts and map real-time deals, and manage your itinerary.
Tell-Tale Signs of a Travel Scam
Unsolicited mail, email and faxes for deeply discounted travel packages may promise the world, but the fraudsters behind these offers will leave you at the gate.
Ask questions before joining a travel club. Sometimes, a “free trial” membership can result in unauthorized charges on your credit card. Find out what you’ll get for your money and how you can cancel.
If someone tells you you’ve won a “free” vacation, but then claims to need your credit card number for “verification,” tell ‘em to take a hike. If the promotion is legit, you never need to pay for a prize.
Special Considerations for Charter Travel
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Special Authorities Office is responsible for maintaining a list of approved public chartered flights. Charter packages cannot be sold until the charter filing is approved by the DOT. For more information, call 202-366-2396.
- If you pay by check for a charter package, make sure it’s payable to an escrow account (as required by federal law) and call the bank handling the escrow account to verify its validity. Be wary of charter operators who are reluctant to provide escrow bank information — they may be selling another firm’s space — or those who tell you they’ll send a courier to pick up your money.
- Check out the operator. Avoid high-pressure sales pitches. Ask the operator to send you information about the business, and the names of satisfied customers. Ask family and friends who have used the operator about their experience. Check with local travel agents to see if they know if the operator is legitimate. Or contact the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA): Visit TravelSense.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 703-739-2782.
- Read the fine print. Get a copy of the operator/participant contract. This will tell you the conditions under which the operator can change flight schedules (usually charters can be canceled for any reason by the operator up to 10 days before the trip), hotel accommodations (operators may put you up in an alternate hotel listed in the operator contract that is not as nice as the hotel advertised in the package materials), and the rules and penalties for cancellation. Ask about cancellation insurance. Rules state that an operator cannot ask for or accept your payment until you have signed and returned the contract.
- Understand your rights. According to DOT rules, you have a right to cancel a charter package without penalty if the operator makes a “major change.” That includes a change of departure or return date or city, a hotel substitution to a property not named in the charter operator/participant contract, or a package price increase of more than 10 percent.
- Expect flight delays. They’re common on charter flights. DOT rules allow for a charter flight to be delayed up to 48 hours if mechanical difficulties occur. And the operator doesn't have to provide alternate transportation or compensate you for your expenses if a delay occurs. Check the contract to see if the operator will cover any costs (for example, lodging, and car rentals) associated with flight delays that aren't related to mechanical difficulties.