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AARP: Avoiding Travel Scams

By: Sid Kirchheimer | Source: AARP.org

From Scam-Proof Your Life: 377 Smart Ways to Protect You & Your Family, by Sid Kirchheimer, 2006, p. 156.
The Road to Travel Rip-Offs
Travel scams consistently rank near the top of complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and many state attorneys general offices. We’re not talking petty larceny here: Trusting consumers get bilked an average of nearly $500 per incident.
What should you be on the lookout for? Here are four of the most common dodges:
“Free vacations.” These offers may arrive via snail mail or e-mail. Either way, they announce that you’ve been selected to win a free vacation. The catch: To claim the “gift,” you must pay a “processing fee” that typically exceeds the cost of a similar trip. Not only that, but the travel dates are limited.
Sometimes, the phone number by which you can purportedly redeem your “prize” is a 900 number or one outside the United States—a ruse to generate sky-high long-distance charges. “Basically, any offer for a free vacation that comes to you unsolicited is a scam,” says Norie Quintos of National Geographic Traveler.  Although some time-share facilities do indeed offer free trips, plan to endure an entire day of high-pressure sales pitches to buy vacation time at that resort.
Discount travel clubs. This scam tenders a “membership” costing several hundred dollars in exchange for a certificate that supposedly entitles you to reduced rates for travel. “However, redeeming the certificate may be next to impossible,” says travel agent John Frenaye, a member of the Communications Council of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). “The typical scenario is that the certificate is good only for certain dates—and expires before it can be redeemed.”
“Become a travel agent.” Another ploy promises you the same discounts offered to accredited travel agents: After you pay a fee, the company grants you “credentials” that supposedly let you access travel-agent freebies and discounts. However, says Frenaye, hotels, airlines, and other travel-industry operators do not recognize these credentials because they bear no relation to the legitimate discount-granting privileges extended to members of organizations such as ASTA, the International Airlines Transport Association (IATA), or the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
Pricing too cheap to be true. It’s all in the fine print: Read it closely and you’ll discover that many low-cost fares are one-way only—meaning, of course, that you must double them to get an accurate idea of your expected outlay.
Frenaye’s advice: “Be sure to read all fine print” before you click that ‘Buy’ button online or agree to a phone-in reservation.

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