BBB Alert: Travel scams circulating

BUFFALO – If ever there was a winter to prompt a getaway – this was it. As Spring truly arrives for Upstate New Yorkers many will be planning their summer getaways. Consider the U.S. Travel Association is forecasting travel expenditures to increase to more than $940 billion in 2014 and Better Business Bureau serving Upstate New York is warning travelers to shop smart.

While travel clubs and travel agencies gear up for a big season, BBB reports over 10,000 complaints were filed last year for the industry. This includes only consumers who took steps to resolve their disputes yet thousands more were likely hit by opportunities that sounded great but fell far flat or worse – stole their cash with no recourse.

“We typically see travel scam offers this time of year but consumers can expect even more of these so called deals,” said Warren Clark, President of Better Business Bureau serving Upstate New York. “Scammers know how hard Northeast weather hit us these past few months and they’re hoping the weary will take their well-crafted bait. The look and sound of these smooth talking deals can lead consumers down a path of regret. We’re encouraging anyone looking to travel to start with trust and make their plans with reputable companies.”

Consumers report to BBB receiving direct mail offers for cruises and trips including lookalike boarding passes and travel checks (see attached samples). Other offers include free airfare and destination vacations by calling a 1-800 number. When consumers called they heard free trips were offered so the company could build word-of-mouth advertising. Sound plausible? BBB says beware of slick pitches, hidden fees, fine print and potential shady experiences even though the images look lovely.

Consumers are advised to take several steps when responding to one of these offers.

Do not fall for the “high pressure sales tactics” or smooth talkers

Study the details of the “free offer,” including any other additional fees

Check the payment terms if fees are associated with the trip

Ask about the company’s refund policy should you need to reschedule

Use caution when considering deals. If a deal or package offers a lot for a very low price, be wary. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

BBB offers the following tips when planning a vacation:

Be wary of claims you “won” a trip. Generally if you’ve truly won something, it will be given to you as a gift. Be especially leery if the offer is unsolicited. Check on any offers with BBB first.

Book through a reliable travel agent. Find BBB Accredited travel agencies at BBB Accredited Businesses must adhere to the BBB’s Standards of Trust, which include advertising honestly, being transparent and honoring promises.

Get details about your trip in writing. Confirm details such as total cost, extra fees, any applicable restrictions, flights, hotel reservations and car rental information. Keep written information and take copies with you on your trip.

Use a credit card to pay. This offers the most protection should something to wrong.

Read all receipts, credit card statements and bank statements to make sure there were no hidden charges.

Consider purchasing travel insurance. Circumstances could cause you to cancel your trip, return home early or force you to seek emergency medical treatment while traveling. Travel insurance may provide the extra protection you need. Be sure to shop around and read the terms and conditions.