7 Ways to Avoid Being Scammed the Next Time You Travel
You’ve got the time off. You’ve picked the destination. You found a great price for your vacation with this discount travel website. Now all you have to do is book it, sit back, and show up. Right? Wrong. While there are many fine travel companies out there, there also many unsavory ones. But how are you supposed to know? By reading on, for starters.
- Get it in writing. It is amazing how trusting people are when paying strangers hundreds of dollars. Even with legitimate travel companies/hotels, etc, mistakes can occur; with dishonest companies, your lack of paperwork is practically begging them to take advantage of you. Without that backup in your arsenal, any disputes come down to your word against theirs. And guess which they're going to favor?
- Take names. Anyone who tells you you're getting an upgrade or you can have a late checkout without a charge - may be (my stars!) just saying this to get you to book a sale. Ask for their name. Most likely, they'll give you their real one, and when you call the company to complain later that the hotel had no record of this, your credibility will increase by leaps and bounds when you tell them you spoke to Kirsten as opposed to, "she said..."
- Don't use a company who charges too little. What?! You're thinking. Aren't I supposed to get the best price possible?? Yes, and the key word here is "possible". Hotels, airlines, and travel websites all know what the others charge and are in a constant battle to charge as much as possible while still staying competitive. Even wholesalers, such as Hotwire and Priceline, have a relatively small profit margin, and so can’t slash the prices that much. If a hotel room where you're going runs about $150/night, and the airfare is about $600, then any company charging $100 a night and $300 for the airfare would obviously be taking a huge loss - and why on earth would they do that? You’re right - they wouldn’t. More likely they booked you at a cheaper hotel without telling you - or even worse, didn't book you at all. Yes, these things happen.
- Where are they? Look carefully at a travel website. Is there a physical address? A real area code? If every click to “contact us” lands you at nothing more than an email form and/or a toll-free number, do not use them. These features are fine, but only if accompanied by a physical, i.e. human, presence, as well. If they are trying to scam you, it is very easy to hide behind a phone recording and just not respond to your email query. And when you report the company, how will the authorities find them?
- Who are(n't) they? Does the name and logo of the company look an awful lot like another, well-established company? This is most likely a ploy to get you to trust them by making you think the companies are linked. If you don't see the well-known name listed anywhere on the site, guess what? They're not!
- What have(n't) they done? After booking your flight/hotel/cruise/car, call the airline/hotel/cruise line/car rental company directly and confirm everything. This way, you can hopefully solve any problems before your trip.
- Show me the (receipt for my) money. When you pay ANY money to ANYONE, you must immediately get a receipt. Imagine going to the hotel, your reservation being there, and...no record of your pre-payment. The hotel is caught in the middle, needing payment from you because they haven’t received it from your booking company. Yes, this happens. Without a hard copy of the paperwork from you, it’s much easier for the company to hem and haw and otherwise double-talk you.
Sheesh, you may be thinking. This sounds like a lot of work. Can't I just pay someone to take care of everything for me? Uh - no. Well, yes, IF it's a reputable travel agent. And unless you or someone you trust has had a good experience with one, don’t assume they are. The agents still get a commission on your bookings, so it is in their best interest to "yes" you into, um, booking. The bottom line is, no matter what, YOU are the one who will be on the road, exhausted from the plane ride and wanting to get to your room. YOU are the one who could be forced to shell out money a second time. And probably most importantly, YOU are the one who, in the event of a scam, will have to sacrifice precious vacation time sorting out problems instead of drinking Margaritas at the pool (call and verify that there’s a pool). So a little work - just some common-sense precautions - can save you big in more ways than one.