When it comes to travel, everyone wants a "deal". But, buyer beware! When the "deal" sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Whether it’s being scammed by an online rental company or by someone who claims to be a travel agent, there are ways to safeguard yourself and your investment.
- Never pay with cash, check, or wire transfer - These are red flags in the travel industry. If a company or travel agent says they only accept these forms of payment with no option to pay with a credit card, RUN! Paying with a credit card – not a debit – is always best when it comes to booking any form of travel. Your credit card transaction protects you more than any other form of payment. You’ll have the greatest chance of getting all of your money back if or when something isn’t quite right with your travel arrangements. A debit card is the next best thing since it also provides a paper trail. Paying by cash is literally seeing your money go into a black hole never to be seen again.
- Avoid using a rental by owner websites - Don’t get me wrong – the majority of the rentals on these sites are perfectly legitimate. Unfortunately, property owners aren’t thoroughly vetted by these websites so when it comes down to it, anyone could say they’re the property owner, post pretty pictures, and collect the rental fee. Additionally, the properties aren’t visited by the rental by owner websites, so there’s no guarantee you’ll get what you paid for. Thankfully, most of the more well-known rental by owner websites are putting more security measures into place to minimize fraud, but they’re still not immune from deceit. It’s always better renting through a management company or tour operator where every single property has been inspected by someone within the organization, and the owners have been thoroughly vetted. This is critically important when renting a property in a foreign country since there’s little to no recourse if or when your vacation rental goes awry.
- Don’t rely on the pretty pictures - Hotels, resorts, and home rentals hire professional photographers to make their properties look better than they may be. With and photo editing apps and software, properties can look however the company wants them to look. Case in point, there’s a popular resort in Jamaica that appears to be on the beach when looking at the professional photos. When, in reality, the resort is across the street from the beach – a public beach with no association to that resort. Looks can be deceiving so it’s always best to work with a company or agent that has either personally visited the property or has connections to someone who has in order to set realistic expectations.
- Use a trusted agent - Whether it’s a property manager or travel agent, there are ways to verify their legitimacy. Ask if they’re a member of a professional association or part of a larger travel consortia – it’s in your best interest to verify the person you’re trusting with your investment is legit especially now when there are so many people calling themselves a travel agent when they’re not. It’s also important to ask how the transaction will appear on your credit card statement. If they run the transaction through their company, ask if there’s a way to run the charge through the cruise line, tour operator, or property management company and for you to pay the agent fee separately, when applicable. This way, you know for sure your payment is being paid to the travel provider and the agent isn’t pocketing your money by never making your reservation. Be sure to also verify with your credit card company the charge was made for the amount agreed upon.
- If traveling as part of a group, designate at least two people to look over the fine print so nothing is missed prior to making the purchase - Too often, travelers don’t read the terms and conditions, group contract, or other fine print because they’re too excited about their upcoming trip. Make sure the cancellation policy, resort fees, or other incidental fees are clearly spelled out so there are no surprises.
- Avoid the lowest, rock bottom rate - The cheapest rate can often be the most expensive mistake. Again, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A 7-day vacation to the Caribbean with airfare and hotel or home/villa rental for $500 is usually unrealistic when the cost of air by itself is often that much or more from most areas of the U.S.
- After you make your purchase, immediately read the details of your confirmation in its entirety - You should always receive a reservation number issued by the actual travel provider and not just the one created by the website, management company, or travel agent. If you aren’t given this reservation number, ask for it. If you don’t receive this reservation number, this is a huge red flag.
- Finally, trust your instincts - If something doesn’t feel quite right, it probably isn’t. There are many outstanding agents and management companies who would be more than willing to help turn your travel dreams into reality. There’s no reason to risk your hard earned money with someone you don’t trust.