As smart as we all are about buying vacation packages online, it’s important to refresh our scam antennae to avoid travel ripoffs.
This year has already been a record-breaker in terms of online shopping as a result of Covid-19 related restrictions and concerns, experts say. Just during the first 10 days of November, the traditional holiday shopping season, U.S. consumers spent $21.7 billion online — a 21% increase year-over-year.
However, it isn’t just stores and buyers who are getting ready for an online spree. Check Point Research notes that threat actors are also organizing. They report a spike in hacker activity in fall 2020, with a surge in malicious phishing campaigns — often using email — targeting online shoppers with travel ripoffs in the form of “special offers.”
Travel Deals are so Tempting!
Booking travel online seems so simple — you search for the lowest rates, you click, and you’re on your way. But being your own travel agent isn’t as easy as it might seem, according to ShopSmart magazine from Consumer Reports. One reason is that press release distribution services can spread the word about travel deals even long after they have expired.
The consumer advocates at Consumer Reports have shared a list of six common travel website “gotchas” — those deceptive leading sales pitches that amount to plain old travel ripoffs. Most probably sound familiar but there’s always a new twist, so reading about how to avoid them should make life easier.
Common Gimmicks That Can Cost You Extra
We bet that most of these scenarios sound familiar, maybe too familiar. to avoid travel ripoffs, remember to read the fine print regarding any online purchase (travel related or not), study the cancellation policies, keep copies of all payment e-mail confirmations and use a credit card that will support you if you need to dispute charges.
Fare Jumping: You click on a great deal, and the site says it’s no longer available.
ShopSmart magzine from Consumer Reports found a flight on Expedia from Miami to Montego Bay, Jamaica, that suddenly rose by 40%; on Travelocity they saw the price of a hotel room in Chicago suddenly rise by $110.
- Avoid it! Don’t bank on getting a juicy rate online until you click through to book it.
Added Fees: Many travel products include taxes, resort fees and surcharges. On many third party sites, like the OTAs, not all are listed until you get to the checkout page, where you might find an ugly surprise. And, some extra fees may not even be included, so you might not find out about them until you get to the hotel or airport.
- Avoid it! ShopSmart advises travelers to go to the travel provider’s website for free info to avoid surprises.
Overpriced Packages: When you book a flight online, you’re asked whether you’d like to add a hotel room or rental car. But packaged deals aren’t always bargains, says ShopSmart.
- Avoid it! Take the time to price a package’s components. Also check out FTF’s favorite deals sites so you can do the math and know what to expect.
Price Guarantees and Rate Ripoffs
Price Guarantees: Ads promise you’ll get the lowest rates or you get a refund. But ShopSmart found so much fine print that they concluded that claiming a refund is a long shot.
- Avoid it! Ignore price guarantees and find the best deals on your own.
Dynamic Pricing: This means that different people might get different prices online for identical searches. For example, if you’re looking for New York > Paris airfares a lot, you may drive up prices before even booking a flight.
- Avoid it! Erase traces of searches by resetting the browser preferences and deleting cookies, using Incognito Mode on the Chrome browser, or just use two different browsers to check prices. Great tip from ShopSmart!
Hidden Bargains: Major travel sites sometimes make it difficult to find the lowest prices, says ShopSmart. If you search for a rental car, for example, there’s often no initial sorting tool so you can see all rentals in price order.
- Avoid it! Don’t book until you’ve reset search preferences to find all the deals. Also visit sites of individual travel vendors (like Southwest and other low cost carriers) if they’re missing from your meta-search engine results.
Getting More Help with Travel Ripoffs and Online Scams
If you do get caught up in one of these mischievious marketing gimmicks, or believe you may be getting involved in a criminal travel scam, visit the American Society of Travel Advisors Consumer Pages or check out the website and company references with the Better Business Bureau, before you pay a deposit.
Already ripped off? Feel free to share it with others in any of the online bulletin boards about travel, including FTF’s Forums.
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