7 Terrible Travel Scams and Ripoffs

  • "Free" vacation weekend/timeshare hard sell. We're happy to inform you, says the pitch, that you've "won" or been "specially selected" for a great vacation weekend somewhere. All we ask you to do is register, make a reservation, then show up at the resort for a wonderful time. Oh, and by the way, we'd like you to sit in on a brief presentation about a wonderful investment opportunity. Of course, that wonderful "investment opportunity" turns out to be a timeshare interval or a pay-up-front travel club, and that "brief" presentation actually takes anywhere from a half to a full day of sitting in a "closing room" while being subjected to an unrelenting high-pressure pitch. A minor variant, once prevalent in Honolulu, is to offer "free" admission to some attraction if you agree to sit through the pitch. Yes, if you stick it out, you do get whatever was promised. But don't kid yourself: Those sales pitches are good; they've been carefully scripted and proven to work. I once met an assistant state attorney general who went on one such trip to check out the scam and wound up buying a lot. The defense: Always assume that any blind offer you get in the mail or by email that claims you've "won" something you didn't even know about is a scam, and toss it in the recycling or hit the "delete" button.

Our earlier report covered travel "protection" that really isn't insurance and the various pay-up-front schemes that promise much but deliver little or nothing unless you pay more.

The Old Shell Game

A few scams involve switching you without advance knowledge or consent. I can't cite any current court cases, but these have worked over the years:

  • Hotel switch. Hotel chains with more than one property in major beach destinations have been known to overbook their prime beachfront property deliberately. Then, when you arrive for the oceanview room you reserved and paid for, a manager reluctantly informs you that "we're really sorry, the whole area is overbooked and your room isn't available, but fortunately we've been able to find a substitute room at an affiliated hotel just a block or two away." Of course, the replacement hotel is not on the beach and has no oceanview rooms, but the operator claims that you're lucky to get a room at all. The defense is not to fall for the scam: If a hotel can't honor a reservation, find your own replacement and demand a full refund from the original hotel -- taking it to small claims court if necessary.

  • Apartment switch. A variation on this one has occurred with vacation rentals. You sign up for what looks like a good deal, but when you arrive the agent or manager tells you that the unit you reserved is unavailable because of "unexpected maintenance" or some such, and the operator has arranged another accommodation that's "just as nice." Of course, it isn't just as nice; it may be smaller, in a poorer location, in bad condition, or whatever. Check here for stories various travelers have posted about one agency. This scam is especially difficult to deal with in an overseas setting, where you know legal redress will be tough to impossible. The defense is to refuse an unsatisfactory switch, demand a refund, and find your own replacement. If you're nervous about overseas problems, rent through a U.S.-based agency that must fix your problem, refund your money, or face legal action.

Our earlier report covered card mills and no-event ticket packages.

Miscellaneous Ripoffs

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