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What better way to celebrate the end of the long winter than to jet or drive off for spring break?
The annual migration to warmer locales is a tradition that started primarily with college students in the 1950s, but now includes many young professionals and families. The most popular destinations include Austin, Texas; Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Tampa, Florida; South Padre Island, Texas; Las Vegas; New Orleans; Miami; Panama City Beach, Florida, Cancun, Mexico; and Los Angeles, according to USA Today.
Unfortunately, the growing volume of spring break travel has sparked a growing number of travel scams. The American Hotel & Lodging Association reported in 2016 that scams affect about 15 million bookings each year — at a cost of about $1.3 billion to unsuspecting American travelers. Just as spring break is high season for travel, it is high season for scams.
So as you plan for your spring break, consider three of the most notorious travel scams and how to avoid them:
Scam No. 1: Renting a property that isn’t available
Some scammers advertise and collect rent on desirable properties that they don’t own. Vacationers arrive at the locale only to be told the property was never available. NBC News reported on a would-be Florida vacationer who wired $1,500 for what she thought was a beachfront property. When the Michigan woman and her family arrived, they found there were no accommodations available. The property manager had turned away five other groups of vacationers, all of whom had fallen for the same scam.
Solution: Authorities and travel experts recommend that you never rely solely on the contracting party for information. Google the property’s address, contact the property independently of the agent with whom you speak and pay with a credit card.
Scam No. 2: Cruise liquidation sales
Ever see flyers for cruise liquidation sales? Chances are good that any such unsolicited flyers are hoaxes, according to Ed Johnson, of the mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Better Business Bureau, speaking to WJLA-TV. He made the statement after reviewing the “spring liquidation sale” flyer that prompted a D.C.-area woman to book a trip for her family of five. Although the woman thought she was booking an eight-day Caribbean cruise for $750, she ended up paying about $1,200. What she bought was actually membership in a “vacation club.” When the woman attempted to cancel her membership and get answers, the representative hung up on her.
Solution: Research any cruise company before you sign a contract or send money. You can start by checking the Better Business Bureau database for information and ratings. Also, carefully read any information you are given. In the case described above, the woman had missed information on the paperwork she was given that said the company “is a vacation consulting company and is not the fulfiller of these vacation packages.” And, of course, don’t pay for anything until you have a contract from the company. Review all terms and conditions, taxes and fees, and cancellation policies, recommended the BBB. In addition, confirm all reservations, total cost, flights, hotel reservations, cancellation policies and restrictions.
Scam No. 3: People charging border-crossing fees
A third common scam is one that affects international travelers, especially visitors to South and Central America, according to HiYa, an online consumer research community. Scam artists target travelers when they cross land borders — demanding a tax or fee for a purchase a special visa.
Solution: Research the border requirements before you travel. Go to the official government site of the country to which you’ll travel. You can also check travel sites such as Along Dusty Roads, which frequently updates the fees for border crossings.
Once you are traveling and at the border, don’t be bullied by anyone who approaches you in line even if they look official. Keep your passport out of sight, not in your hand. Do not give your passport to anyone except an official agent. Note: If you are crossing between two Latin American countries, an agent or even a bus driver may demand money. Some are emboldened by the readiness of tourists to pay it. You may have no choice, according to HiYa. Read travel blogs and sites, including Lonely Planet, so you understand what risks you may encounter.
Sure, spring break can be a lot of fun if you research your options and opportunities before you hand over your hard-earned cash.
What’s your experience with spring break travel? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.