Holiday Travel Scams & How to Shop for Travel



You may get a call, a text message, or a flyer in the mail. Or maybe you'll see an online ad promising free or low-cost vacations. Scammers and dishonest companies are often behind these offers. You may end up paying hidden fees — or worse: after you pay, you might find out it’s all a scam.


Common Travel Scams

  • “Free” vacations - You’ve probably seen ads online for “free” vacations. Or you may have gotten emails, calls, or text messages saying you’ve won a vacation, even though you never entered a contest. If you respond to these offers, you’ll quickly learn that you have to pay some fees and taxes first — so your “free” vacation isn’t really free. A legitimate company won’t ask you to pay for a free prize.

  • International travel document scams - You might see sites that claim to be able to help you get an international travel visa, passport, or other documents. These sites are just copycats of the U.S. Department of State website. But these sites charge you high fees, including fees for services that are free on the U.S. Department of State's website.

  • Vacation home scams - These days, it’s easy to connect directly with property owners who advertise their vacation homes online. But scammers are also trying to get your rental booking. For example, they hijack real rental listings and advertise them as their own, so when you show up for your vacation, you find out that other people are also booked for the same property. You have no place to stay, and your money is gone. Other scammers don’t bother with real rentals — they make up listings for places that aren’t really for rent or don’t exist.

  • Charter flight scams - You may get a flyer in the mail, see an ad, or hear from someone in your community about an offer to travel by private plane to someplace you’d like to go. The offer may even include lodging and sightseeing tours. You think you’re signing up for a charter flight and vacation package, but after you pay, you find out it’s all a scam. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Special Authorities Division maintains a list of approved public charter flights. If the charter filing is not approved by DOT before the package is sold, you’re probably dealing with a dishonest charter operator.


How To Shop for Travel

  • Get recommendations from trusted sources. Talk to family and friends or other trusted sources about good travel agencies, vacation rentals, hotels, and travel packages.

  • Check out comparison websites and apps. Travel apps can help you search for airfares and hotel rates, and some even give you fare alerts and real-time deals. But make sure you know whether you’re buying from the app company or the actual airline or resort. It can affect things like whether you can get a refund or travel points, and the price for services like changing or canceling a flight. Also, make sure you know whether you’re buying a ticket or just making a reservation.
  • Ask about mandatory hotel “resort fees” and taxes. You can’t compare rates for different hotels unless you know about all the fees. If you’re not sure whether a hotel’s website is showing you the total price, call the hotel and ask about a “resort fee” or any other mandatory charge. Also ask about taxes, which may be significant in many places.
  • If you’re buying travel insurance, be sure the agency is licensed. Find out whether an agency is licensed at the website of the US Travel Insurance Association. Make a copy of your insurance card to take with you when you go on the trip.

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