With thousands of operators out there competing for your travel dollars, how do you know who to trust? How can you be sure your precious holiday dollars are invested wisely? Watch out for these 10 signs that your travel provider isn't reputable.
1. No one has ever heard of them
It's 2013. If a company doesn't have a website, that's a huge red flag. Likewise, if there's nothing written about a provider online (like reviews—good or bad), you should think twice about using them. In this digital age, you should be able to find some information about a provider on the Web. Of course, there are always exceptions. Perhaps the provider in question is a small tour operator in a developing country. In that case, treat the lack of an online presence as a potential red flag, and then check if it fits with any of the other signs on this list.
2. They don't accept credit cards
If you're unsure about a travel provider, booking with your credit card gives you a lot of protection. Some credit cards will not hold you responsible for charges if an unscrupulous travel company scams you. Plus, most credit cards offer some kind of insurance (especially for rental cars) when you book travel through them. So if a company only accepts cash up-front, money orders, or wire transfers, you should be wary. Of course, if you are booking a day trip in person at a storefront in a foreign country, they may not accept credit cards, but that's not as much of a warning sign as when a provider asks you to send a check or money order well in advance of your travels.
3. The photos are deceptive
It's your job to do a little research before booking a hotel or using a travel agency. Does the hotel have amazing photos that make it look like the best resort in the world? Check out the user-submitted photos on TripAdvisor or the real-life photos taken by researchers for Oyster to see what you're really getting. If they're trying to hide something in their photos, what else could they be trying to hide from you?
4. They insist on only doing business over the phone
Sure, it's nice to pick up the phone and speak to a human rather than booking everything online, but be wary if that's the only method of communication your travel provider will agree to. They could be keeping everything verbal to try and avoid giving you things in writing. If you don't have a written contract or emails that you can refer to, trying to get your money back when things go wrong can easily turn into a case of "he said, she said,'' and you'll have no proof to argue your side.
5. They want you to pay more than 60 days in advance
This is a tricky one. Many hotels, booking sites, and travel agencies require you to pay in full when you make your reservation, especially if it's non-refundable. However, this can be a warning signal, especially if you are paying more than 60 days in advance. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, consumers only have 60 days to argue a charge on their credit card—so having you pay more than two months in advance could be a less-reputable company's way of making sure that you can't dispute their charge if they fail to deliver the trip that they promised.
6. The reviews look fake
Be sure to do a little digging before you take an anonymous reviewer's word. Are the reviews all written by accounts that have only reviewed this agency and no other? This could be a sign that the place you're checking out has paid someone to give them positive Internet press or they've simply made fake accounts and done it themselves. Before trusting a reviewer, try to find out if they have also written about other places.
7. They have a poor BBB rating
If you're booking through a North American travel business, check them out on the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) website. This organization attempts to protect consumers by monitoring scams and complaints against companies. The BBB grades everything from travel agencies to ticketing agencies on a scale of A+ to F.
There is no similar service in Australia however ASIC does list known scams and companies you should not deal with (however most of these are financial).
8. It's too good to be true
Have you seen an ad for an airfare or vacation that just seems too good to be true? We're not saying that there aren't bargains to be found— just that if an offer seems ridiculously low (like $200 for round-the-world airfare), it probably is. Make sure you know what taxes and fees are included in a quote, and find out exactly what is covered in the quoted price (and what isn't).
9. They want you to sign up for a club
Walk away if a travel provider offers you a great deal—but only if you pay a subscription fee and sign up for their club. As consumer advocate Christopher Elliott told us, "The number-one travel scam at the moment is the vacation-club scam. I've never come across a legitimate travel club. My advice is to run, don't walk." These scams usually take the form of wholesale clubs that promise you cheap vacations if you join them—but once you've forked over the joining fees, you find that the "deals" aren't anything better than you could find yourself.
10. They're not accredited
Accredited travel providers should give you an extra sense of security when you book through them. Make sure travel agents are a part of the International Airlines Travel Agent Network (IATAN), a nonprofit agency that accredits professionals around the world.
In Australia, the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) has established the Australian Travel Professionals Program (ATPP), an accreditation program designed to promote professionalism in the industry through continued education and training.
This article has been adapted from the original published by SmarterTravel.com
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