As spring break inches closer, a sunny vacation becomes all the more attractive. Many people are eager to trade chilly temperatures for sunshine and the relaxing sound of waves crashing against the shore. Spring break usually means a week of fun and sun; however, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) warns people to plan ahead to avoid scams and common vacation pitfalls.
“Con artists know that students are eager to make arrangements to book a getaway,” said Susan Adams Loyd, President and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “They can and do use that enthusiasm to their advantage.”
Scammers commonly target students looking to find great deals online by offering enticing vacation packages at unrealistically low prices. That’s why it’s important to do your research first. If you haven’t planned a vacation before, BBB (bbb.org) is a great resource for finding travel agencies that are reputable and dependable.
Here are some additional tips from your BBB to help ensure a worry-free vacation:
- Plan ahead. The early bird gets the worm. Allow yourself the time to research hotels, flights, and area where you’re staying. Typically, the earlier the reservations are made, the better the deals you will find and the lower the risk of your favorite destination being booked solid. Making reservations in advance also locks in rates and prevents you from paying higher prices later during prime spring break season.
- Avoid broad internet searches. Try to avoid entering phrases like ‘best deals’ into whichever search engine you use. Broad search terms like that can sometimes lead you to websites that look official, but are designed solely to rip people off.
- Be alert for travel scams. Watch out for phone calls or letters claiming that you’ve “won a trip” or websites offering prices that are too good to be true. It’s easy to extend questionable offers like these, but the vast majority of them leave hopeful travelers in limbo – and out money.
- Do your homework. Ask family and friends to recommend a travel agent or travel website and visit bbb.org for free Business Profiles. If you’re using services like Airbnb or VRBO to find accommodations, be sure to research the business and read customer reviews about any rentals you’re considering.
- Get the trip details in writing. Before making final payment, get all the details of the trip in writing. This should include the total cost, restrictions, cancellation penalties, and names of the airlines and hotels. Also review and keep a copy of the airline and hotel’s cancellation and refund policies, as well as the cancellation policies of the travel agency or vacation website – such as Travelocity or Priceline – you’re using.
- Consider travel insurance. Travel insurance is designed to cover such things as trip cancellations or medical emergencies. There are different levels of coverage based on what type of plan you purchase. Ask a lot of questions, and always read the fine print to see what’s covered and what’s not.
- Pay with a credit card. Paying with a credit card gives you additional protection if something should go wrong with the travel reservation.
If you’re not a planner and decide to set off on a spring break vacation on a whim, there are still ways you can protect yourself. First, share a copy of your itinerary with a family member or friend. Include the contact information of someone joining you on your trip. Second, take a map. People rely heavily on smartphones and GPS and it’s better to be prepared for anything in the case of technical difficulties or if you’re going through an area with poor cellphone reception. Third, pack a winter survival kit if you’ll be driving through snowy conditions or mountainous regions. Finally, avoid traveling alone. Use the buddy system and stick with your friends. Use hotel safes to store extra cash and keep any valuables under lock and key.
The mission of Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.