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Spring break travel frought with scams

By Lydia Hallay
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday Feb. 6, 2002

Background checks, paying with credit cards can reduce risk of being scammed

With spring break just over a month away, many students are making plans to visit popular destinations around the world.

But local travel agents say students should proceed with caution to avoid being victimized by spring break travel scams.

Julie Betz, manager of STA Travel in the Student Union Memorial Center, said some companies offer students inexpensive spring break packages and then fail to provide the services they promise.

"I've heard horror stories," Betz said.

She said students often hand over their credit card numbers only to find out that the hotel reservations were never made, or that the company they're dealing with has gone out of business.

Sarah Canning, a media arts sophomore, said she's seen advertisements for spring break package deals that look "too good to be true."

"I don't think they're telling you the whole story," Canning said.

She said she suspects many of the packages don't include things like airfare, hotel accommodations and food.

"(The deals) sound good, but what's the catch?" Canning said.

Joanna Duncan, a representative from the STA Travel, 910 E. University Blvd., said students often make travel plans through agencies that only do business in spring break travel.

"A lot of times, they're not reputable," Duncan said.

She said students are better off relying upon reputable travel agencies that provide a variety of services.

In a press release last week, Alexis Rochefort, representative for the Institute of Certified Travel Agents, said there are several things students can do to make sure they're doing business with a legitimate travel operator and not a scam artist.

She suggested checking the credentials of the travel agent, doing a background check on the company offering their services, purchasing travel insurance and paying with a credit card.

The Institute of Certified Travel Agents also recommends that students get the details of their trip in writing, including "the name of the air carrier and hotel, amenities, restrictions and cancellation policies involving the package."

Betz said students should also check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against the agency they're using. Most importantly, she said students should be sure they have an agency's contact information.

"Get several numbers," she said. "Get names. I've heard stories of students trying to contact an agency when they have a problem and finding that the line has been disconnected."

Betz said she's also heard stories of companies that open a few weeks before spring break and then file for bankruptcy when unsatisfied customers surface with complaints.

"Then they just open up the next year with a different name," she added.

Betz advises students to ask questions and "make sure you feel comfortable with everything before agreeing to anything."


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