Cheryl Parson: Summer vacation travel scams
Memorial Day weekend is often considered the kick-off of the summer vacation travel and retail “holiday” season. Our office of the BBB, like others across the country, is starting to receive calls about amazing travel deals and Memorial Day mega-sales (Fourth of July and Labor Day should be included, too).
This week I received a couple of timely bulletins from other BBB offices I think you need to be aware of.
A consumer alert came from the BBB regarding holiday sales and how to tell if the amazing, limited time deals on cars, furniture, TVs, and barbecue grills are to be believed and how to tell the difference between legitimate ads and those that are misleading and confusing.
The BBB offers these tips:
• Study the details. Is the sale on the latest model or an older version? Be especially careful if you’re looking to purchase a tablet or other popular electronic device.
• Limited time offers. Does the retailer ever have a sale on the item any other time of the year?
• Are the lowest prices advertised only offered to those with exceptional credit? It may be a great deal, but only if you qualify.
• Is a percentage off price taken from the regular price or a marked-up price that, when the percentage is applied, equal the regular cost?
• Know the difference between a guarantee and warranty. Make sure the retailer gives you full details on the length and definition of the warranty or guarantee. Ask if the guarantee means you can take it back for a full refund.
In another scam alert, the president of a BBB received a postcard inviting him to attend a 90-minute “VIP Travel Expo” celebration of Southwest Travel’s anniversary.
If he attended, the postcard said, he would receive two round-trip coach-class airline vouchers covering most of the airports in the United States, plus a stay at a Hilton or other three- or four-star hotels. But wait, there’s more! Folks that arrived early would receive a $25 prepaid Visa gift card! But wait, there’s still more! All attendees would receive $100 in “dining dollars” to over 200,000 restaurants!
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The BBB President called to get some specifics. He was told the company had travel deals with charges and fees much cheaper than booking travel online. He asked the company’s name and was told it was Adventure Getaways and that Southwest Airlines was a sponsor of the program. He verified that several times. Southwest and other airlines have warned the public about travel scams using their names.
Putting his staff to work, they tried to uncover information about Adventure Getaways and Southwest Travel. He stated, “I couldn’t find any information on Adventure Getaways and Southwest Travel is such a generic name we couldn’t reliably check it out.”
Here’s some advice about travel clubs and offers:
• Check them out at BBB.org to see if other consumers have reported experiences with them.
• Don’t be the victim of a high-pressure sales pitches. It’s a red flag if a salesperson refuses to give you time to consider the offer.
• Read all the terms, conditions, policies and financial obligations before signing any contract. Never rely on oral promises.
• Understand the limitations and fees when using airline tickets and other premiums given at such presentations. For example, the postcard said the recipient is responsible for all applicable taxes and/or fees, which often make the offer much less attractive.
It stinks to get scammed, especially in the summer months when you want to enjoy the warm weather, travel and long holiday weekends. Knowledge is power and the more you know about identifying potential scams and shopping pitfalls the less likely you’ll fall for them.
Have a great summer!
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.