For the past couple of weeks I have been writing about reasons one would use a travel agent and to watch out for hidden fees with those large Online Travel Agencies (OTA) like Travelocity. I recently learned that in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, a lady who was a travel agent had been scamming people out of their hard earned money. She had a brick and mortar office, was a member of the local chamber of commerce, was “licensed” according to the news station (but there was no elaboration on what they meant by being licensed), and even generated invoices for booked vacations. Unfortunately it appears that she had her own debts to pay before her client’s vacations bills. I am sure after reading this you are reconsidering using a travel agent, right? Don’t be! I am going to give you some tips on how to make sure that your travel agent is legitimate and how to avoid being scammed out of your hard earned money.
Tip #1: Check their credentials. Ask them if they have taken any course work related to travel and tourism. Do they have certifications in the travel industry, are they rated on Angie’s list, the Better Business Bureau, or another reputable business rating website? Are they part of any networking works like chamber of commerce, Business Network International (BNI), or the Women’s Business Network (WBN)? And you should always ask for references! Asking for a past client’s phone number or email address to give them a referral should be easy.
Tip #2: When booking with a new travel agent, only give the deposit amount required to secure your booking, payment for any trip insurance, and any service fees your travel agent charges. Service fee amounts should be clearly stated on anything you sign. Unless you are booking within a 90 day window of departure, you should not have to put down the full amount. If your travel agent is requiring you put the full amount down, ask to see the supplier’s brochure and look in the very back for their deposit requirements. If you feel uncomfortable about booking at that time, politely say “it was more than you were looking to put down at this time so you will have to get back with you later.” Then get up and walk out!
Tip #3: In a world where credit cards are so easily used and they seem to be like potato chips where we all don’t just have one, please always use your credit card. There is built in fraud protection on most, if not all credit cards nowadays. Use this card to make your deposits and final payments. I would recommend against using a debit card unless you have been working with this person for years. Please be aware of any travel agent who ONLY takes checks as their form of payment as it is very easy to set up an account to take credit cards. Always check your credit card statements to ensure that the charges discussed are the exact charges on your bill. And don’t be afraid to ask questions if you find an error. An honest agent will review everything to find any mistakes.
Tip #4: Once you have made your reservation, your travel agent should give you an invoice with a reservation number of the supplier being used. If they have not, please ask them for this information. This gives you the opportunity to call the supplier directly or go on the supplier’s website to verify your booking. Now this sounds easy enough, but if you are part of a tour group that the travel agent has put together you will not have supplier reservation numbers. The best way to double check your tour is legitimate is to call one of the hotels you will be staying at and ask them if your group is booked.
Tip #5: Always listen to your instincts. If you don’t click with your travel agent then please don’t feel like you have to stick with them. Find someone who works well with you and your family. If you feel like something is wrong, ask a lot of questions or just leave. You have the right to ask questions. My mother has always told me that “if it sounds too good to be true then it is too good to be true.” There are deals out there that are really good, but do some research. Before talking with your travel get an idea of the cost of the vacation you want to take but remember that your travel agent can sometimes get you the same price or lower with added amenities.
Now you are prepared to work with any travel agent!
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