Every year you hear about the poor soul who bought a fax Superbowl ticket or spends thousands on a bogus sports travel package. Here are some tips to help you avoid these sports travel scams.
• Check the tickets. Make sure when booking a sports package that the arrangements include tickets to the desired sporting event. The U.S. government’s ‘Truth in Ticketing’ rules, require that a tour operator advertising a Super Bowl travel package that includes a flight and game tickets must have the game tickets in hand or have a written contract for the tickets before they can even advertise.
• Do your homework. Book tour packages through a travel agent or tour operator affiliated with a professional organization, such as ASTA. For example, ASTA notes it is the only travel trade association with a Consumer Affairs function that can mediate some disputes for consumers and ASTA member travel agents. Check to see if the company is an ASTA member at ASTA.org. Also, check to see if there are any complaints on file with the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org.
• Protect yourself. Make sure the tour operator participates in a consumer protection plan. ASTA’s Tour Operator Program (TOP) helps travel agents and consumers identify ASTA tour operators that meet certain standards, the Society says. The criteria require that the tour operator be in the business of operating tours for the past three years; have a $1 million Errors & Omissions (E&O) policy naming travel agents as additional insured; and adhere to the ASTA and TOP code of ethics.
• Read the fine print. Get information about the tour package and tour operator in writing. Read the information carefully and ask your travel agent to explain all the details.
ASTA also offers suggestions when evaluating any travel offer to help avoid being a victim of a travel scam:
• Retain a healthy dose of skepticism. Be extremely skeptical about unsolicited e-mail, postcard and phone solicitations saying you’ve been selected to receive a fabulous vacation or anything free. Be especially wary of firms requiring you to wait at least 60 days to take your trip.
• Do your homework. Some offers might sound great on the surface, but be sure to read the fine-print. Certain offers impose so many requirements and restrictions, such as black-out dates and companion fees, that you will either never have the chance to take the trip or you will end up paying more than had you made the arrangements on your own or used an ASTA travel agent.
• Run a “background check.” You should vet the companies from which you purchase travel services. You can do this by checking to see if they are members of ASTA or by searching for the company on the Better Business Bureau’s Web site. Other sites to check are www.complaintsboard.com and www.ripoffreport.com.
• Keep private information private. Never give out your credit card number unless you initiate the transaction and you are confident about the company with which you are doing business.
• Get the facts. You should receive complete details in writing about any trip prior to payment. These details should include the total price; cancellation and change penalties, if any; and specific information about all components of the package.
• Follow up. Once you have the complete details of your trip, contact the hotel and transportation companies on your own to make certain the reservations have been made.
• Know when to fold ‘em. Know when to walk away. High-pressure sales presentations that don’t allow you time to evaluate the offer, or which require that you disclose your income are red flags to be heeded.
• Protect yourself. Always pay with a credit card if possible. Even legitimate companies can go out of business. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, credit card customers have the right to refuse paying for charges for services not rendered. Details of the Fair Credit Billing Act can be found at the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site.
If you think you’ve been scammed, contact your local Better Business Bureau, your local or state Consumer Affairs Office, state attorney general’s office, or e-mail ASTA’s Consumer Affairs department at firstname.lastname@example.org for information and assistance. For more travel tips, visit ASTA’s consumer Web site, www.TravelSense.org.