In recent news, there have been insane stories about people being swindled out of their money when booking travel. There are many great travel agencies and groups to choose from, but a few give others a bad name. Being defrauded may come in many forms, such as:
- Deception with the intention to never book your travels
- Bait and switch- advertising of goods or services to substitute inferior or even more expensive goods or services (with an additional cost)
- Goods or services not rendered
- Goods or services provided are not as described or expected
This list is not all-inclusive, there are many other forms, but these are the most common.
We work very hard for our money, and it is unfortunate that people intentionally defraud others, or do not have the experience needed to make the trip a success. Yes, I mainly travel solo, but I have taken trips with a well-known tour company. I am also booked through a tour company for Antarctica in 2020.
Unfortunately, you usually hear about these events after the fact when a complaint is filed, an attorney gets involved, or someone is charged or even arrested. I see clear warning signs that people are overlooking. My goal is to help you get ahead of the situation before you lose thousands of dollars, or do not receive what you paid for. Yes, it happens. Let us discuss what you should look for in a good travel agency, group, or any medium that you use to book your travels and warning signs that something is potentially wrong.
The first thing you should observe is the company’s reputation. The first thing you want to know is, do they have any pending lawsuits? A lawsuit is not necessarily a deal-breaker. The determining factor should be the reason for the lawsuit, company size, and the number of lawsuits. If there is a recent influx of lawsuits, that is a deal-breaker for me. I also check their rating with the better business bureau, BBB. The BBB grade represents the degree of confidence that a business is operating in a trustworthy manner. A complaint is not a deal-breaker. The determining factor is the number of years in business, the number of complaints, and the nature of the claims. Next, check to see if there is any information on file with the attorney general. Last, perform a google search to determine if there is any negative news about the company. An influx of recent negative news is a deal-breaker. It is safer to book with a company that is not in hot water.
The Attitude of The Individual & Company Culture
Next, observe is the person’s attitude. If it is a company, observe the culture and how customers are treated. Are they willing to answer questions? How do they handle challenging issues? How long did they take to address your concerns? Did they make you feel like you were bothering them? For example, a travel group posted an upcoming trip; I looked at the comment section to see what the discussion was about. A potential customer stated, “Wow, I would never pay that much; these prices are gouged.” The creator of the group responded and said, “Don’t come on my page and accuse me of price gouging; that’s how you get blocked.” The accusation of gauging may be a touchy topic, but if one person felt that way, others may share those feelings. That was an excellent opportunity to win customers by saying something like, “Hello, I understand that you feel the prices are high. On this trip, we are offering more than the average- a private chef, all transportation is included, all excursions are included, and this is a luxury experience. By responding negatively, the admin lost her as a client and lost me as a potential customer.
Next, look at reviews. Are the reviews readily available for you to access? Unfavorable reviews should not necessarily deter you immediately, but is there a common negative theme in all of the reviews? Are negative reviews or comments deleted? Negative comments and reviews should not be deleted. None of us are perfect, not even travel agencies, and mistakes will occur. If negative feedback is given, the professional and appropriate thing to do is to respond with an apology if needed, explain what steps were taken to resolve the problem, explain extenuating circumstances that happened that could have affected the situation, and finally thank the customer.
Experience and Reliability
Here are some questions that you should ask yourself in regards to the company’s expertise and reliability: How long has the person or company been in business? Do they have experience dealing with issues that may arise when traveling? Provide a scenario and ask them how they would handle a particular situation. How reliable are they if something unforeseeable happens? When you read the reviews, how did the companies experience help with handling stressful situations? We all have to start somewhere, and it is ok to entertain someone who has been in business for a short period, but you need to know that the individual is an experienced and reliable traveler.
Conduct Your Own Research
Once you decide that you like a particular agency, now it is time to do your research. People often ask, “How do you afford to travel so much?” or “Wow, how much was that trip?” This question reveals many things, but one thing is shows is that some people have no idea how much a trip should cost. People ask me this question in reference to trips that cost less than $1,000. Not knowing how much a trip should cost will lead you to pay much more than it is even worth. Research every component of the itinerary and come up with a total of how much it should cost.
Things to Consider:
Now you should have your figure. If needed, do more research. Do you have a friend, relative, or travel group that you trust? Give them your numbers, and ask for their opinion. Ask them how much they paid when they went. There is no dumb question when it comes to your money. During the research process, keep all documentation of conversations that you had with the travel agency.
Whatever you do, please do not skip this step. Without doing your research, you open yourself up to be taken advantage of.
The million-dollar question! How much is the company charging, and what does that price include? You can pay $2,000 for a trip, and someone else can pay $10,000 for the same trip. It is all relative to what you are getting for your money. Is the price that the agency is charging within that ballpark of what you researched? Is the price unnecessarily high? No, it will not be the same as your figure, but it should be within a reasonable variance. If someone is charging $5,000 for the essence festival, you should be in the same mansion as Beyoncé & JayZ, have a seat on the stage, and Blue Ivy should be pouring your tea. Take a step back, and ask yourself does this even makes any sense. If it does not make sense, this could be a sign that you are being duped.
Before you purchase the travel package, make sure you have insurance. It is normally cheaper to purchase insurance for the year so that all of your trips are covered. Please do not take a trip without insurance. When you make your purchase, pay with a credit card. It is easier and usually quicker to dispute through the credit card company than it is with a debit card. If something happens, you will be able to recoup most of your money. Also, if you book with a credit card, they normally have insurance coverage.
Now that you have booked your trip, are they still communicating with you! Are they answering your questions promptly? If you have any concerns, and something is not right, this needs to be addressed. If they are not responding to your calls, texts, emails, and messages; this is a sign that you may need to back out.
Fact Check & Follow-Up
Most people skip this step. The process is not over now that you have made a deposit, or paid for the trip. Now it is time to follow-up and make sure that components of the trip are purchased within the agreed-upon period. Call the hotel, do they have a reservation for you. Check the flight! Do you have a seat on the plane? Get on the phone with the airline! If your accommodation and flight are not secured, you need answers immediately.
In conclusion, there is no foolproof way to make sure you are not swindled out of your money when using a travel agency. You may not need to follow every step; it all depends on the company and your level of expertise. In almost all of the situations that I have encountered, there were numerous warning signs. If you follow these steps, hopefully, it will lead to a successful experience. I wish you all the best with booking your travels. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. If you have any additional tips, please share in the comments section.