North Carolina Department of Justice

North Carolina Department of Justice

North Carolina Department of Justice
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Free trips usually come with strings attached

6/6/2013

By Attorney General Roy Cooper

“All-expenses paid tropical vacation! Round-trip tickets to the destination of your choice! Deep discounts on airfare and lodging!”
 
Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? The summer travel season is here, and many North Carolinians are looking for ways to save on getaways. But these phone calls, emails, faxes and mailings you get promising “bargain” or “free” vacations usually come with hidden costs or fail to live up to your expectations. 
 
Travel clubs, which claim to provide discounts on hotel rates, airfare, cruises and car rentals to those who join, often use offers of “free” trips to promote their business. While some travel clubs are legitimate, others are not. 
 
My office recently took action against one travel club that claimed people had won a free cruise or a pair of airline tickets. People went to a travel presentation at a hotel to collect their gift but instead got a high-pressure sales pitch urging them to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a travel club membership. And their free trip turned out to be so difficult to book that most people gave up trying to use it.
 
Signs that a travel offer may be a scam:
  • You’re told you’ve won a trip but are then asked for your credit card number or to pay a fee to redeem it. A trip isn’t free if the company or club requires you to pay or buy something to get it.
  • It’s short on details. Beware of phrases like “luxury cruise” and “five star hotel,” which sound enticing but don’t give specifics about what you’ll actually be getting.
  • The company is operating out of a temporary location like a motel room. If you attend a presentation in a hotel or any other place than the company’s office, North Carolina law gives you three days to cancel the contract. If the contract doesn’t specifically state this, don’t sign up.
  • You’re told that the offer is good today only. Don’t get pressured into making a quick decision you’ll regret later.
  • You can’t verify the vendor’s name, company name, street address or phone numbers. Make sure a company is reputable before you buy. Check with my Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina or your localBetter Business Bureau to see if there are complaints against the company.

Even with legitimate travel clubs, the price of the membership may cost you more than you’ll save. Before you sign up, consider the following:
  • Find out how easy the travel membership is to use. Many people complain that they can’t get reservations when and where they want to travel. Some clubs require you to book months in advance. Many clubs don’t let you request a specific location, but instead require you to give a list of places you’d be willing to visit and several options for times you would be willing to travel.
  • Investigate the types of places the travel club arranges for its members to stay. Otherwise you may arrive at your destination to find the accommodations below what you expected and end up paying to stay somewhere else.
  • Look carefully to see if the club will really save you money. Take into account all fees, dues and costs, and be realistic about how often you’ll use the membership. Ask questions about how the company calculated these savings and don’t rely just on the representations the sales agents make during the sales presentation.
  • Ask questions about the availability of inventory the club offers during peak vacation times. Some clubs have large amounts of inventory during off-season travel times but have a small inventory of accommodations for prime vacation season. 
 
Don’t let the appeal of a free trip lure you into paying for something you don’t want or need. To save money on travel, instead look for legitimate deals online or with an established local travel agent. Or consider a vacation spot close to home this year. North Carolina offers many great places to spend your vacation.  We’re a year-round top tourist destination drawing millions of visitors who spend billions of dollars in our state.