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BBB: Steps can ensure vacation is worth remembering

Several years ago we had a complaint I will never forget. A customer booked a hotel online – a quaint little chalet in the mountains promising beauty, luxury and relaxation.

Excitedly, they pre-paid for the room in anticipation of a great vacation. They packed their bags, headed on the long road trip to get there and finally arrived only to find a mobile home with a fake facade mounted on the front to make it look like a mountain chalet in a photograph.

Oh, they had rooms to rent, but you can imagine what kind of condition these rooms were in. A single wide trailer with one bathroom was not at all what this customer was expecting.

It’s almost that time of year again, when families and college students are amping up for that celebrated informal holiday – spring break.

Consumerism is at an all-time high during this week and the weeks leading up to it as travelers plan trips, pack their bags and buy all the items needed for a fun-filled week away. Shopping for adventures involves every kind of venue available, from buying edible goods at retail stores to house swapping on Craigslist to booking hotels and airline travel online.

This is also prime opportunity for the scammers to take full advantage of consumers looking to travel for a bargain. There are definitely deals to be found but you have to be smart about your shopping. Make sure you research companies before buying and verify you’re using the true website. Here are some helpful tips to get you started on your planning the right way.

• Check out a company before you buy. You can look up their reliability at or search google for negative comments on many different sites. You can use the term “scam” or “negative” in the search function.

• Read the fine print. Some companies charge hidden fees on deposits that you don’t see when you initially make the deposit and then it shows up when you go to pay the balance.

• Beware of “free” offers. Even the most realistic-looking travel checks often have nothing to do with the company for which they are promising free services.

• Read for legal waivers. This is a new trend we’re seeing in which travelers are asked to sign paperwork waiving all their rights to sue the company if something goes unplanned with their trip. I can’t stress enough to read the fine print.

• Know the lingo: what’s a co-terminal? This is another fairly new trend. Tour operators as a travel contract industry standard can name co-terminals in your contract which most of the time are rarely more than 20-40 minutes apart. But sometimes they are much more, six hours apart in some cases. So instead of flying out of Philadelphia they could require you to fly out of Baltimore with no option to cancel.

• Choose to purchase directly or through a third party. You can often find great deals on travel through sites such as Travelocity, Expedia and others. However, be sure to weigh the importance of flexibility in your travel plans because booking through these sites is not always the best option if flexibility is needed. Do you have small children that may get sick prior to travel causing the trip to be cancelled? Do you need flexibility to come back early for any reason?

• Know the risks of home swapping. This is a popular and cost efficient way to see different parts of the country and world. Make certain you are using verified and safe websites that are trusted sources for home swapping. Never pay a high security deposit up front. Always insist on speaking to the owner or property manager in advance and arrange with them to pay by cash or credit card when you arrive on the property. You can even call the phone company to verify the phone number and accuracy of the address and ask the property owner for a copy of these bills.

Whether you’re traveling the globe or just the other side of the state, make sure to do your research. Even the savviest of consumers can get busy and miss the fine print that could make all the difference to their well planned vacation.

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