2004-05-28 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer

The adage, "You get what you pay for," does not always ring true. However, when planning to travel, keep that adage in mind. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends the following tips so that you can enjoy traveling without being taken for a ride.

You should try to purchase vacation travel packages from a business you know or that has been recommended to you. If possible, try to do business with companies belonging to professional associations such as the American Society of Travel Agents, the National Tour Association or the United States Tour Operators Association.

When comparing vacation travel packages, be wary of ads in the newspaper, on the internet or advertisements received by unsolicited fax that offer deeply discounted vacations. These "deals" may contain hidden costs or not inform you that you are required to attend a sales presentation to qualify for the discount or the travel arrangement. Confer with your credit card company to determine if they offer added protections in case you need to dispute a charge with your travel agent.

Once you are satisfied with your travel arrangements, double-check and verify them with your travel agent or whomever you have discussed the arrangements. Get all details in writing and a copy of the cancellation and refund policies. Get the names, addresses and telephone numbers for the lodgings, airlines and cruise ships you will be using. Do not accept vague terms such as "major hotel" or "luxury cruise ships." Get specific details.

Timeshares, campgrounds or travel clubs may offer to sell membership vacation packages for long-term arrangements. These types of extended arrangements requires extra considerations such as your long term health (both physical and financial), the prospects that the company selling the memberships will remain in business, and your commitment to spending time in the same location.

Advertising is a means to get you interested in the travel arrangements. You should be aware of certain catch-phrases when you read an ad. Examples of such catch-phrases are: "You have been specially selected to receive our SPECTACULAR LUXURY DREAM VACATION offer." This does not mean you will get a free vacation, it is simply an offer for you to pay for a trip that may or may not fit your idea of luxury.

"Subject to availability." That means you may not get the accommodations you wanted when you want them.

"Blackout periods." These are blocks of dates, usually around holidays or peak seasons, when no discount travel is available or certain accommodations may not be provided. If you feel you have been a victim of an unfair or deceptive business practice, you can file a complaint with the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or by using the complaint form at www.ftc. gov. You may also file a complaint by calling the New York Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-771-7755.

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