Follow any travel themed Facebook page, and you’ll see low priced vacation packages posted daily. These offers range from reasonable to downright outrageous. If it weren’t for your office job, you’d be out there getting on a plane, right now!
Or, would you? Unfortunately, the deals found and posted up by these pages aren’t always legitimate. It’s up to you to put on your detective hat, and investigate each situation.
Step 1: Find the Source
Start by digging deeper into the source. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of a 129€ trip to Venice with a complimentary gondola ride, but what exactly does that include? Who is guaranteeing that price?
Find out whether this is a package deal offered by a company, such as Groupon. Sometimes, a deal you see isn’t a package, but a few low prices someone spotted and added altogether. In that case, you’ll want to find the companies offering those individual prices.
You’ll notice that vacation packages are always “From” a certain low price. There are likely a few specific cheap days available at that cost, and they may be sold out. Be sure to check whether the advertised price is still available!
Here’s a checklist to verify before signing over your hard earned cash.
- Is travel (i.e. airfare, busses, or trams) included? If not, what will that cost you?
- What happens if something goes wrong? If you miss a connection because your plane runs late, will they ensure you get on the next flight free of charge?
- What charges aren’t included? Most packages don’t calculate Tourist Taxes. Check for all excluded fees, to avoid unpleasant surprises later.
- Is this deal available for the exact dates you need, at the price you expect?
Reading the fine print is important, even for legitimate offers. If the answers to these questions aren’t available, you may be looking at a scam.
Step 2: Check Reliability
Unfortunately, there are a lot of resellers who peddle using the bait-and-switch technique.
For example, you book a certain hotel room. After making your payment, you’re told that the room you paid for is unavailable. Instead, they ask you to check into a different, worse hotel. Other times, they’ll pressure you to upgrade somewhere else, and pay the difference.
Many cheap flight sites charge a non-refundable fee. Only after this fee goes through do they tell you that there was an error booking your flight. Now you’re out a hundred bucks, and you still don’t have the flight you need!
Before losing your money and sanity, do a quick checkup on the booking company. Use third party review sites, blog posts, and travel forums to get a feel for their reliability.
As a final precaution, call the advertised hotel or airline. Ask whether they accept commitments or vouchers from the company you’re booking the package through.
Step 3: Scout Alternatives
Vacation packages are often based on travel dates that were cheap to begin with. Even if the deal you saw isn’t legitimate, those are good dates to shop around for.
If a deal offers special pricing between July 16th and August 10th, check directly with airline and hotel sites for those dates. You may be surprised to find there is a natural dip in prices for that time range!
Even when a package deal doesn’t work out, you can still take advantage of these cheaper bookings. As a bonus, you can rest easy knowing that your money is safe and your booking is secure.
Not all package deals are a scam, but it’s important to do your homework before getting ripped off.
Have you ever seen an ad for a vacation package that seemed too good to be true? Tell us about your craziest experience dealing with vacation scams in the comments below!
Image credits: Anne Dorko
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