Taking a Family Vacation? Watch Out for Travel Scams & Fake Booking Sites!

With one month left before school starts again, families are planning last minute trips. Often considered a time-saving tool, travel clubs appear to offer convenience, variety and savings. While some reputable travel clubs do offer these benefits, that’s definitely not the case for all.

The BBB has often received complaints that many travel clubs promise huge discounts on hotels, airfare and cruises, but fail to deliver these discounts to members despite the high cost of joining.

The complainants allege that they are lured either in person, by telephone or through email to a high-pressure sales presentation with the promise of receiving free airline tickets, gas cards or tickets to shows. During the presentation, consumers are promised great deals on travel if they joined the travel club for a membership fee costing thousands of dollars.

Many consumers who purchased travel club memberships have found that they can book the same travel at the same prices on their own. Consumers who complained that the travel club discounts are not as advertised have found it difficult, if not impossible, to get their travel club membership fees refunded.

Before you join a travel club, be sure to do your homework and make sure it’s the right fit and worth your money. Your BBB recommends that you evaluate the travel club’s offerings, compare prices and make sure the club has a good reputation before paying thousands of dollars on a membership. Check out the company with BBB or by calling 256-533-1640 or 1-800-239-1642.

If you’re booking a hotel online, take these precautions:

  • Watch out for fake hotel or vacation rental websites: The site may have the logo or design of a legitimate hotel or booking site, but that can be easily copied from the real website.
  • Double check the URLs.Scammers pick URLs that look very similar to those of legitimate sites. Always be sure to double check the URL before making a purchase. Be wary of sites that have the brand name as a subdomain of another URL (i.e. brandname.scamwebsite.com), part of a longer URL (i.e. companynamebooking.com) or use an unconventional top-level domain (brandwebsite.net or brandwebsite.com).
  • Look out for fake contact info: Some consumers report calling the 1-800 number posted on a scam hotel booking site to confirm its legitimacy. Scammers simply impersonated the front desk of the hotel.
  • Convenience Fees Can Add up Quickly: Once again, it’s the few dollars here and there that really fool you. The travel industry is a major perpetrator, “A $2 delivery fee at your hotel for a newspaper you never requested, a $5 candy bar from a minibar, a $20 fee to check your luggage; alone, these fees are chicken scratch but put them all together and you’re spending more, maybe a lot more, for your vacation.” To avoid hidden fees piling up, always be sure to ask if the price you are paying upfront includes everything.
  • Concierge Recommendations: Before you trust the recommendations from a brochure, concierge, or blogger, consider their motive. Many are affiliated with certain businesses and have an agreement to recommend that service over others.
  • We Want You Back: Some travel companies target your more sentimental side that comes out at the end of a vacation. You had a great time, so why not consider a vacation deal for next year? Such as, “another cruise at the end of your vacation at sea, or a timeshare while you’re having a theme park vacation in Orlando, or to sign up for a travel ‘club’ that’ll let you return to the island.” But according to MintLife, never buy one of these offers while you’re still on vacation. They are not always offering the best deal.

Source: BBB North Alabama, US Travel Association , MintLife, and bbb.org

To find trustworthy travel agencies, go to bbb.org. To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker).