Scams

Six Travel Scams to Avoid

All of these deals are too good to be true.

The summer travel season is almost here. If you're looking for deals, make sure you don't become the victim of a scam when trying to score a bargain. I spoke with SmarterTravel.com contributing editor Ed Perkins to find out which scams are most common and what you can do to avoid them. Here's his list:

1. Phony airline tickets

How it works: A Web site or travel agency offers a deal better than anyone else's, won't accept credit cards and instead demands direct transfer of funds. What you get is a plane ticket that's worthless.

How you can avoid this scam: Don't deal with an outfit you've never heard of. See our list of the 28 best travel sites for legitimate companies. Don't purchase airline tickets or any travel accommodations through a group that won't accept a credit card. If you have a dispute with a merchant -- for example, you were sold a phony plane ticket -- you may have an easier time working out a solution if you paid with a credit card.

2. Pay now for future travel

How it works: You're approached to enroll in a club that will enable you to take future vacations for an upfront fee of thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. After enrolling, you try to book a vacation but are told that the location or time period you want is unavailable. Then you might be asked for more money to gain access to more upscale spots that would be available.

How to avoid this scam: Unless you know someone who participates in a particular program and is happy with the service, stay away from these clubs. Even if your friend recommends a club, do some research of your own. See Resources to Help You Check Out a Company.

3. Travel like a travel agent

How it works: You receive a promotion in the mail or e-mail telling you that you can travel like a travel agent or sell travel from your home. The group purports to be a large travel agency that will provide back-office support while you sell travel packages. For a fee (usually $495 or $4,900), you'll receive training and a travel agent ID card that you can use when making reservations to get a special rate.

How to avoid this scam: "There's hardly an airline or hotel that doesn't know about these phony IDs," Perkins says. Even legitimate travel agents have a tough time getting discounts on airfare. Toss the promotion in the trash or hit "delete."

4. No-ticket event packages

How it works: A tour operator offers a package for a big event, such as the Super Bowl, but doesn't actually have tickets to the event.

How to avoid this scam: Ask the tour operator if it has event tickets in hand. Of course, the representative could lie. So it's best to buy through an organization you know.

5. Phony insurance

How it works: A travel agent sells you a "protection plan" that's supposed to reimburse you if you have to cancel your trip. The policy, however, is unlicensed and you won't get your money back.

How to avoid this scam: Make sure the product you're being sold really is a licensed insurance policy. You can see a list of licensed travel insurance companies at the U.S. Travel Insurance Association site. See The Case for Travel Insurance to learn more about what travel insurance covers. You can compare policies at InsureMyTrip.com.

6. "We will sell your timeshare"

How it works: Groups charge an upfront fee to sell your unwanted timeshare. "The bottom line is they don't," Perkins says.

How to avoid this scam: Avoid any group that promises to sell your timeshare for a fee (other than cheap listing fee). If you have a timeshare you just can't unload, consider posting on Craigslist with an offer to give away your timeshare for free to anyone who will take over the commitment.

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