5 travel deal scams and how to avoid them

April 24, 2017 GMT

Just like any other component of business, the travel industry has its own share of scams.

Extending far beyond simple bait-and-switch pricing models, these ploys can trick you into spending twice or more what you should pay — or rob you of your funds altogether.

When it comes to avoiding travel scams, it’s wise to educate yourself on red flags to watch for, along with the best ways to deal:


The Scam: A too-good-to-be-true travel deal costs just pennies on the dollar.

Travel discount sites can offer some pretty crazy deals at times.

“Buy this six-night all-inclusive stay for $399 for the next 12 hours,” they’ll say, tempting you into a quick decision. What they won’t tell you is all the hoops you need to jump through to put this “deal” to use.

Your Plan: Many awesome travel deals are legitimate, if only you can travel certain dates, fly out of specific airports or meet other requirements. To sort the scams from the real thing, make sure you read through all the fine print of any travel deal before you pull the trigger. Also, make sure the company advertising the deal is legitimate by checking their rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and reading reviews.


The Scam: You sit through a dishonest travel pitch.

This one has happened to me before. When my husband and I first got married, we sat through a 90-minute presentation on cookware to earn two $300 vouchers for free travel. What they didn’t tell us was that a) the vouchers were only good for discounts off specific travel packages, and b) the company’s travel packages were insanely overpriced.

Your Plan: Make sure you ask yourself if the deal is too good to be true, then ask a ton of questions. If we had bothered to ask how the vouchers worked, we would have known not to waste our time in the first place.


The Scam: You rent a condo from someone who doesn’t even own it.

While you can score an awesome deal on a rental condo by booking directly with the owner, this is another area where scammers are out in full force. Many fraudsters set up fake profiles and offer condos they don’t even own, then demand upfront payment before skipping town or changing their phone number.

Your Plan: If you want to rent a condo without getting scammed, make sure you rent through a reputable real estate agency or a website like VRBO.com or Airbnb.com. Also, read through each condo’s reviews to make sure plenty of other renters had a good experience.


The Scam: You “won” a free vacation, but the taxes and fees are outrageous.

You receive a mailer that states you won an amazing travel package. All you have to do is call a 1-800 number to redeem your prize. But when you call, the company demands you pay a huge fee to get your hands on your prize.

Your Plan: If you find yourself in this situation, you are probably dealing with a scam. You shouldn’t have to fork over your hard-earned dollars to find out more about your prize, nor should you pay for anything over the phone. Make sure you’re dealing with a reputable company before you move forward. If something doesn’t seem right, you’re probably dealing with a scammer.


The Scam: Your car rental seems so cheap, until you get to the rental counter.

Car rental agencies make more money when you buy their pricey insurance, but you may not need it if your own insurance policy offers coverage on rental cars. Further, many credit cards offer primary rental car coverage when you use your card to pay for the purchase.

Unfortunately, car rental agencies will go to great lengths to persuade you to buy additional coverage. They’ve even been known to lie and say their coverage is mandatory.

Your Plan: While some countries (think Mexico) do require renters to pay for government-mandated coverage, most additional coverage in the U.S. and abroad is voluntary. Make sure you know the requirements for any country you’re visiting before you get sucked into buying expensive auto rental coverage you don’t need.