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TRAVEL - FLORIDA

Information provided by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services (850) 488-2221

PROTECT YOUR TRAVEL INVESTMENT

Travel, especially for people on vacation, should be fun. Unfortunately, there are some in the travel business who are more concerned with separating travelers form their money than in getting them to their destinations. You can reduce your chances of falling victim to unscrupulous sellers of travel by exercising discretion and common sense.

Sellers of travel come in many forms - from small, local offices to large, national and international franchise. Most of them are sincerely concerned with providing their clients with professional service and enjoyable experiences.

The few seller of travel who cheat the public create problems for everyone - travelers and law-abiding travel agencies alike. In many cases there is a limit to what the law can do to assure consumers that they will get their money's worth in their dealings with travel agents. But the wise traveler can do much to keep from becoming a victim of fly-by-night or unethical sellers of travel.

NON-EXEMPT FLORIDA FIRMS MUST REGISTER ANNUALLY

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is responsible for protecting consumers from unethical sellers of travel. This is done by requiring all non-exempt sellers of travel to register each year and include their registration number in all advertisements and contracts. Some are also required to provide financial security for consumers through a bond, letter of credit or certificate of deposit, and to adhere to mandatory recording-keeping procedures.

HAVE YOU BEEN SELECTED FOR A TRIP? BEWARE!

How do consumer get involved with unethical sellers of travel? Answering advertisements placed by travel agencies that offer trips to exotic places at bargain prices in one way. Another is filling out cards for vacation trips and dropping them in boxes at flea markets, fairs or other places that attract large crowds. You also may receive a "certificate" or a postcard in the mail. Often, the offer is for a discount travel package.

If you answer an ad or fill out a card, chances are you'll be contacted by a representative of the travel agency informing you that you've been selected for your dream vacation. The choice of words should sound as a wording. If you're told you've won a free trip or travel package, Florida law stipulates that you cannot be charged anything other than the cost to get your prize to you. If it's mailed, you can be charged postage; if it's delivered by special carrier, you can be charged the carrier's fee.

Sometimes, however, you'll be told you've been selected for a cruise or vacation - but you'll need to send an advanced payment to cover certain fees. This should be a warning that you've been targeted for something that may be less than a legitimate offer.

Consumers who agree to pay the fees involved in the prizes for which they've been selected should be aware that they might not be getting what they expect. In a worst-case scenario, they'll discover they have nothing to show for their expense and only the courts to turn to for recourse.

Always check around with a couple of local agencies and compare what is available and the price.

CHECK BACKGROUND BEFORE SIGNING CONTACT

Before contacting with any travel company in Florida, a consumer should call the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 850-488-2221 to check if the travel business is registered with the Department. The call will also enable you to learn whether any complaints have been filed against the business.

VACATION CERTIFICATES

Vacation certificate plans offer a trip to one and/or more popular vacation sites at very low prices, which usually include transportation and accommodations. The certificate may be good for a maximum of 18 months under the Florida law.

You might come into contact with travel companies offering vacation certificates through various means. The company might contact you directly by mail or telephone. You might be persuaded by newspaper advertisements or a notice received in the mail to initiate the contact by calling the company.

In many cases, when the company contacts you, it will offer a "free vacation." However, you will be required to pay tax or port charges.

The company will want you to charge the fee to your credit card immediately, or will ask for your checking account number so it can debit the account. Sometimes, the company will offer to send an overnight delivery service to your home to pick up your payment.

Once you agree to the "purchase," you will have a period of time to use the vacation, subject to availability.



Sometimes though, when you call to arrange your trip, the dates your desire will not be available, and the company will offer to "upgrade" you to a more expensive vacation that is available.

In some cases, travelers have found the accommodations and facilities provided through these certificates to be below standard and unacceptable. Then travelers complain to the company, they typically receive a response such as, "What do you expect for the small amount of money you paid?"

30-DAY CANCELLATION PERIOD - VACATION CERTIFICATES ONLY

Effective October 1, 1995, the law gives the consumer come protection in the matte of cancellations by providing that a contract for a vacation certificate may be canceled in writing within 30 days of purchase or receipt of the vacation certificate. The consumer may also cancel if the accommodations and facilities are not available as provided in the contract.

Keep in mind with regard to cancellations: the entire amount involved is refundable. Unethical sellers of travel may offer to refund all but a certain amount, but they are required to refund the full payment, if the consumer met the 30-day provision, within 30 days after receipt of the notice of cancellation and return of the certificate package.
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