Senior America's Information Magazine


Travel frauds

Travel plans can cause you big problems

Seniors over age 50 travel more than any other age group and they do it a lot with bigger vacations that cost more and they have more cash to spend while they are traveling.  What most people forget about in all the excitement is to watch out for travel scammers who will take advantage of your eagerness.

It may sound simple, but here some ways to avoid being travel-scammed.  When planning your next vacation, keep these travel reminders handy and save the excitement for when you actually start the vacation.

They may sound simple, but most people forget the most common ways to avoid being defrauded:

Most travel sellers deliver what they promise. Others do not. Some travel sellers will take your dreams and your dollars. Don't let that happen.

Travel plans - be smart

  • Take your travel business to a local travel agent who is well established in your community. Ask family, friends, neighbors and co-workers for a "satisfied customer" referral who they've used to make travel plans.

  • Check out the travel seller with the local Better Business Bureau and make sure the travel company is properly registered as a seller of travel.  This is one reason that you DO NOT want to do business with a travel seller who calls you and wants you to buy now.

  • Consider doing business with travel companies who are members of a professional travel organization.  You won't know unless you ask and then verify.   But keep in mind that memberships of travel organizations are no guarantee against fraudulent or deceptive travel business practices.

  • Consider shopping with an ARC (Airline Reporting Corporation) travel seller that has the ability to write airline tickets at the time of purchase. Financial stability is one of the requirements needed to obtain an ARC membership.

Travel costs - spend money wisely

  • Plan ahead, take advantage of cost savings offered for early bookings.  But also consider what you are buying and if there is anything that could stand in your way.  In order to save money, some companies now offer non-refundable tickets that you may as well burn if you miss the flight.  

    This means that if you are deathly ill, the dog runs away at the last second, or the alarm clock doesn't go off, you are out of luck.  Knowing what you are buying and all the things that can go wrong is important, but one of the things that scammers want you to forget about.  Concentrate and know the full travel details including who can cancel and why.

  • Be sure to check out "regular pricing" before you are sure that you have a deal.  Scammers often sell real travel plans by inflating the price and then offering you a huge discount if you buy now.

  • Look out for people that call you out of the blue, want you to commit (often with some excuse about having to lock down the deal before it's too late.  If it's too late, don't worry about it.  Other deals will be available.  Scammers and fast moving sales people like to force the deal before you have a chance to think about it.

  • Consider acting as your own agent by booking your own travel arrangements and hotel accommodations. If you are "on-line" on the Internet you can book your own airline travel, often at discount prices.  But here too, be sure to read all of the stipulations.  In some cases, there might be some things that you cannot live with like nonrefundable tickets or flights that start in the middle of the night.

  • Ask about pre-packaged specials, discounts or other benefits available through an agency or a supplier. Evaluate package deals carefully. Compare what you would pay for each individual component to the price of the total package.

  • Ask about discounts for frequent flyers, senior citizens, other types of memberships, and specific credit card holders. Consider traveling during the "off- season," weekdays, and odd hours to receive even greater discounts. Stay a certain number of days and you may get extra savings.

Travel plans - look out for these

  • "Buy Now Travel Later" travel certificate programs which take your money and promise future travel.  This is a big scam pulled on seniors.  

    Seniors are told to "buy now and save it for a rainy day".  Since the scammer knows that the victim might buy the travel package now but won't even attempt to check it out for several weeks or more, it is longer until he is found out.  That gives him more operating time before having to move on.  

    What's more, the victim is also told to "call me back if you have ANY trouble at all".  That of course means a very great likelihood that the travel victim will put him on notice and give him a couple of days to pack up.

  • Travel discount clubs. Many people will never be able to travel enough to make up the cost of the membership. If the cost of the membership is more than your annual vacation budget, rethink your decision.  

    In some cases, seniors will be told that they can buy into travel programs that they can then pass along to their family in the future.  Be sure that this and all promises are in writing and a part of your contract with full costs and obligations being stated.  

    In such cases, remember that anything that is included in your estate is subject to estate laws.  As such, it is always best to have an attorney review any contract before signing it.

  • Joining a travel club which takes your money and promises that you can travel in the future. There is no guarantee the travel club or the travel services will be available or even in business when you want to travel.  Travel clubs come and go and very few have been around long enough to have a good reputation in the travel business.  

    Travel clubs often become unprofitable for the owners of the travel club when they have to start putting out services.  The money spent on joining the travel club is often used immediately to pay salaries and other costs.  Travel clubs are seldom a good investment.

  • Purchasing travel memberships or services from high pressure telemarketers who push for quick decisions or immediate payment.  

    High pressure and immediate decisions mean that you don't have time to think about it, talk about it with friends and relatives, and you don't have a chance to ask an attorney about it or shop other travel deals.  

    Fast decisions mean big mistakes no matter how old you are.  Bottom line, there is NO reason that you must act now, even if the salesman says so.  Maybe the deal won't be there in a week or so, maybe it will.   The travel salesman might even pretend to get mad because you want time to consider the deal.  Don't worry about it.  It's your money, your vacation plans, and two minutes from the time you hang up on him, he won't even remember your name.  He will be talking to someone else.

    Even if the salesman says this deal will be gone yet tonight, chances are that if you call him in a week, he will offer you the same program or something just as good or better.  If not, there are tons of other travel companies out there that do want your business.  

    Another travel sales tactic is to sell you on the vacation benefits, with the very general condition of your travel arrangements being "subject to availability".  What a scammer won't tell you is that you will probably never find much of anything that you want, which is available.  

    You might find that your travel plans to Phoenix AZ must be put off until August or that there is availability in Butte Montana in January, but is that what you want?  Talk to current customers and see if they are happy with the deal, and do searches on the Internet to see who is saying what about whom and the kind of deal they received.

  • Expectations of luxury travel accommodations when you pay bargain travel prices. Remember the old adage, " at most... you get what you pay for".  In some cases, you might not even get that.

    Luxury travel accommodations are a big con because it is hard to prove that what you expected, is what was offered and that the travel accommodations that you thought you would get are reasonable.  Conmen are very adept at picking the words that can be interpreted in many ways depending upon who hears them.  

    Your idea of luxury accommodations will be different than other people and if sued, it is hard to prove that your idea is the right one.  Even if you were duped, most judges still operate under the premise of, "let the buyer beware".  Use your head and make sure that the prices seem reasonable for what you are expecting.  

    Words can also be used to describe the same thing only with a different perspective.  The brochure might describe "quaint rooms that give you the feeling that you have stepped back in time".  You might see it as a small musty old dark room with peeling paint, 30 year old carpet, and decades worth of mold and grime on the fixtures.  They  might call the same specific complaints, "normal wear and tear".

  • Be especially aware of, "You are the winner of a luxury vacation", and so on and so on.  Your first question should be to ask where the drawing took place.  If you didn't enter anything, you didn't win anything.  It's just that simple.  

    Also look out for the word, "award", as in, "you have been awarded..." when they reference some vacation.  The word "WIN" can sometimes get them in trouble, but "AWARD" gives them no penalty points if they are pulling a fast one.  However, they also know that most consumers think of the terms synonymously.

    Let's be real here.  There are no random winners taken from the phone directory.  There are no promotional drawings that require you to make a deposit or secure it with a credit card.  There are no grand opening drawings that you don't have to enter to win.  And if the person on the other end sounds like that used car salesman that stiffed you or he sounds like he's on a script, you can bet they are aiming their sights at your bank account.  

    Hang up, walk away, and don't look back.  If you have already written the check or given them your credit card number, call right now and stop the payment.  You simply did not win anything that the next person in the phone book won't "win" too, and if you still think that you have a deal, there is just something that you just haven't found out yet.  

    You can certainly win travel vacations and it does happen.  But when it does, you will know what you have entered, it will be from an organization that you are familiar with, they will not ask you for your bank or credit card numbers, and they will simply send you the materials that you need to fill out.  There is no risk of loss and they are not going to award the prize to someone else who will give them their private information.  

    If there are any doubts as to the legitimacy of winning, ask for their name, company name, and direct dial phone number to the company main switchboard, and tell them that you will call them back in a few minutes.  In most cases, swindlers are in a phone room and don't have an extension or be able to take a direct incoming phone call.  They will not give this information to you and insist that they complete "the award" right now.

Travel plans - always:

  • Shop travel costs around. Offers "too good to be true" are usually just that. Discount travel offers by airlines, hotels and tour providers are usually available through any legitimate travel seller.  If you get a call from someone who is selling a week long cruise to the Bahamas for $399 cash and the local travel agent cannot locate that deal, there is probably a good reason why.  The deal doesn't really exist.

  • Pay for tickets and services in advance with a credit card. That gives you extra protection should the promised product or service not be delivered.  Never deliver a check or give your bank account information to a person that calls with a travel deal.

  • Before signing any agreements, carefully read all the information supplied by the travel seller company and if you have questions, ask or see an attorney. Pay close attention to the conditions attached to travel arrangements and the travel cancellation and refund policies.  This is where many people get messed up.

  • Buy trip insurance, especially for expensive trips purchased in advance, but be aware.... trip insurance does not protect against fraud or bankruptcy by the travel seller. 

  • Read your insurance policy and file a claim if something goes wrong.  Travel insurance usually covers you, even if the trip cancellation was your fault.  You have to provide a good reason of course, not just that you didn't want to go.  

    If you were in an accident, got sick, had a death in the family, or were injured, be sure that you document this and then consult the travel insurance policy.  Don't be afraid to cash it in either.  They weren't afraid to take your money on the front end and they wrote the policy with all of the provisions.  If you qualify, you should collect.



Disclaimer:  These pages are created to inform and educate the public only.  They are not and should not be considered legal opinions or advice.  You do not and cannot have any client-attorney relationship with SeniorMag or any of its employees.  You should not act upon legal advice found on SeniorMag and are advised to seek professional counsel before taking any action based upon information found on this site. 


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