Don't Get Burned by Hot Travel Offers


Has your business received an enticing offer like the following?

TO: All Corporate Employees

FROM: Diane Johnson, Corporate Travel Division

SUBJECT: Today's Special

DATE: 04/99


These deceptive offers are blanketing business fax machines across the U.S. Even Better Business Bureau staff members are targets. At least one such unsolicited travel offer arrives over the fax machine at the Council of Better Business Bureaus each week.

From its appearance, the offer seems to come from a staff member within your organization or from a travel firm your company uses. Guess again! The offers typically come from firms, usually out-of-state, that specialize in offering travel packages. They are specifically designed to lead recipients to believe that their employers are sponsoring the promotion.

The example illustrates two problems that, when coupled together, can mislead even the savviest consumer - unsolicited faxes and deceptive travel/vacation packages and offers.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns consumers that businesses that send unsolicited faxes are violating Federal Communications Commission's regulations. In addition, these particular faxes may not be the great deal they represent themselves to be.

"This is the time of year when many consumers are planning their summer vacations," said James L. Bast, president of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. "If you want a vacation that matches your dreams and your budget, learn how to carefully evaluate vacation/travel offers."

Complaints to the BBB indicate that consumers most often fall victim to "great deals" and low-priced offers from unfamiliar businesses.

"Our best piece of advice is to verify the reliability of the business and verify all travel package details before you pay any fee, no matter how small. Deal only with businesses you know and have confidence in, or have checked out with the BBB or a recognized travel organization," Bast said. "And, get the details of your vacation in writing before you send a check or provide credit card number information."

Consumers should be aware that travel packages might require consumers to travel during restricted times and to stay in accommodations whose quality and location may not match advertised photos. The company may also reserve the right to change accommodations without consulting the consumer.

While seemingly cheap, travel package plans may fail to cover basic expenses -- such as transportation to and from the destination, meals, accommodations, and taxes -- the addition of which may make "the deal" less worthwhile. Reservation and cancellation requirements may also be restrictive. Consumers considering purchasing a travel package should request information about all accommodations, any costs not covered by the package and reservation and cancellation policies before buying.