Pro Tips to Avoid Online Travel Scams

It’s a sad and unfortunate fact that scams are on the rise, and they pop up in numerous ways that affect our daily lives.  Email, telephone, and internet scams are frustratingly the most popular way that scammers prey on innocent people, and into that latter category of ‘internet’ falls travel scams.

By now, for the most part, people have become accustomed to ignoring fraudulent emails from alleged royalty who want to share their inheritance if you will just provide your banking info for the impending transfer.  We know to hang up on tax and debt collectors who try to convince us we owe money when we know we don’t.  And we delete messages from companies telling us that we’ve won their grand prize despite that we have never entered their contest.  But most of us don’t know how to identify a travel scam.  So what makes them so easy to fall for?  The simple fact that most of us are excited about a vacation and are seeking the best deal we can find.  But as the old saying goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is“.  Armed with that simple information, what else should you look for?

Well, there are a variety of ways that scammers trick vacation shoppers, including but not limited to fake travel websites and fake accommodation listings, and unsecured networks as well as redirecting customers from trusted payment sites.  There are unsolicited pop up deals that appear in your email or social media feed.  And, on social media you’ll find contests or offers for free vacations or airline tickets if you share the deal with a friend.  The offer will look legit, with photos and logos and all the right wording, including the kind of legal disclaimers you’d expect to see in a authorized contest or ad. In the end; however, it is just a phishing expedition for your friends list or even some of your personal information.

There are also scams known as “Bait & Switch”, where a fantastic vacation is advertised for a ridiculously low price but the company never honours the booking for the resort named and pictured in the ad.  Customers are lured by gorgeous photos of upscale resorts and amenities with a long list of perks, only to discover their destination replaced with a timeshare at a different location.  Booking procedures come with a highly personal questionnaire intended to pre-qualify the client for the potential purchase of a timeshare, as well as an expectation to sit through a sales presentation while on vacation, and a frustratingly long or difficult process to cancel the reservations. The dates are also subject to change, making it difficult to book flights.  This is fine for vacationers who know the drill, don’t mind a resort change and a heavy-handed sales pitch, and are totally flexible with their time.  However, for most people, these conditions are completely unacceptable.

To avoid all of these scams and more, you could do a ton of research for each and every online travel company and deal you encounter.  Or, you could take our advice and book with a licensed travel agent, who will help you to choose the vacation that best suits your needs and budget and will continue to assist you even after you arrive at your destination should you encounter any problems.

Unfortunately, many people believe online booking sites are infinitely cheaper than using a licensed travel agent.  That’s a misnomer.  In Canada specficially, a law has been passed that prohibits legitimate sellers from marking up prices to amounts that surpass the ability to be competitive.  In other words, you might find a few dollars difference here and there, but for the most part prices are relatively the same across the board.

Not long ago we spoke with a couple who arranged their annual Cuba vacation with an agent for the very first time, having previously favoured online booking.  Not only were they stunned to find the agency offered the identical deal as their preferred travel site, the agent also helped them to pre-book their airline seats and assisted with early online check-in, which is something they previously didn’t know about.

We also encountered a bride and groom looking to book a destination wedding in Jamaica.  The couple was entirely convinced that booking online would save money and they were just about to click and commit when they suddenly decided to check with their local travel agency first. By doing so, they saved $150 per person.  The agent also provided a personalized invite for their family and friends and took care of all arrangements and deposits.

But convenient and personalized service doesn’t stop there.  Travel agents can set alarms on their computers to immediately notify them of price drops they can pass along to clients, they can offer and explain travel insurance options, book rental cars, and can call the airline or resort and work on your behalf to rectify any unexpected problems that might arise.  They can suggest and offer deals on local attractions and can advise on any travel warnings or any vaccines or medical precautions required for the region you plan to visit.  They can even arrange an early flight home should you encounter an emergency and need to return sooner than planned, or due to dangerous weather or a political uprising.

In the end, a licensed travel agent’s extensive know-how, connections, and array of services will far surpass most any booking site you can find online.  And best of all, you can trust them!

That being said, if you still wish to book online, make sure you do so with a well-established and well-trusted name that has an extensive internet presence, plenty of legitimate contact info, and secure payment options.

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