Most of us will be looking for some rest and relaxation during the summer and fall seasons by taking much anticipated vacations and seasonal getaways to our favorite destinations.
If you intend to use a travel agent or tour promoter to handle your vacation arrangements, Cook County Stateâ€™s Attorney Anita Alvarez advises consumers to do their homework before selecting a company to plan your trip.Â Consumer complaints about unscrupulous travel providers are frequently received by the Stateâ€˜s Attorneyâ€™s Consumer Fraud Unit and Stateâ€™s Attorney Alvarez recommends that consumers take precautions to avoid facing hidden or undisclosed costs or inferior services.
â€œMost travel companies are operated honestly and professionally, but as in any profession, consumers need to be aware of the best practices that they can use to avoid falling victim to a scam and to ensure that their well-earned vacation is as successful and satisfying as it can possibly be,â€ said Alvarez.
The Stateâ€™s Attorneyâ€™s Consumer Fraud Unit recommends that travelers consider taking the following steps before purchasing services from a travel agent or promoter.
*BUSINESS CHECK: Obtain the travel companyâ€™s name and physical address from the advertisement or website in question.Â Check the reputation of the travel service, especially out-of-state businesses.Â Contact the Better Business Bureau of Chicago & Northern Illinois (www.chicago.bbb.org or 312-832-0500) to obtain a reliability report about the travel agency or tour operator.Â Search for on-line reviews of the travel provider and the accommodations.
*RELAX: Donâ€™t feel pressured by requests for an immediate decision or a statement that an offer is good â€œonly if you act now.â€Â Compare the offers of a number of travel services before selecting the most attractive package.
*USE A CREDIT CARD: You can partially protect yourself by using a credit card to purchase travel services.Â If you donâ€™t get what you paid for, contact the credit issuer, in writing, and attempt to get the charges reversed.Â In general, you have sixty (60) days to dispute a credit card charge, and this time period begins to run when you receive the credit card statement.
*SOLICITATIONS BY TELEPHONE, POSTCARD, OR LETTER: Be careful of travel solicitations by telephone, postcard, or letter claiming youâ€™ve won a â€œfreeâ€ trip or can get â€œspecial discountsâ€ on hotels and airfares.Â Too frequently you may end up paying something for the advertised â€œfreeâ€ trip, and the so called â€œdiscountedâ€ tour package may actually be more expensive than if you had arranged the trip from a traditional travel agent or tour operator.
*REDEMPTION OF TRAVEL VOUCHERS OR CERTIFICATES: Be wary of travel offers that ask you to redeem a voucher or certificate, especially from out-of-state companies.Â Such certificates and vouchers are usually valid only for restricted times and on a space-available basis.Â Added costs for taxes, handling fees, meals, or other conditions of the voucher or certificate may significantly increase the total cost of your trip.
*GET IT IN WRITING: Donâ€™t rely on oral promises from the travel service.Â Request copies of any brochures and contracts before purchasing your vacation.
*TRIP CANCELLATION POLICIES: Find out about trip cancellation policies, and get such policies in writing.Â In general, under Illinois law, the travel agent or promoter is required to disclose its cancellation policy in the contract or receipt.
*TRIP CANCELLATIONS: In general, under Illinois law, if the transportation contracted for is canceled through no fault by the passenger, the travel agent or promoter must promptly return all monies paid for services not performed and goods not delivered.
*CONSUMER PROTECTION PLAN: Inquire if the travel service has a consumer protection plan to protect against the travel service or provider going out of business. Donâ€™t do business with a travel agency or tour operator unless the company has a consumer protection plan or maintains an escrow account where your deposit is held.
*PROFESSIONAL TRAVEL ORGANIZATIONS: Inquire if the travel agency or tour operator is a member of a professional organization, such as the American Society of Travel Agents, Inc. (www.asta.org or 703-739-2782) or the U.S. Tour Operators Association (www.ustoa.com or 212-599-6599).Â Many professional travel organizations maintain standards of conduct for their members, dispute resolution services, and mandatory membership for their members in a consumer protection plan.
If you believe that you are the victim of fraud involving the purchase of travel services, you should contact the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Consumer Fraud Unit.Â The Consumer Fraud Unit may be able to help you recover your losses, prosecute the person or business responsible for the fraud, and prevent other members of the public from falling victim to the same scheme.Â The Consumer Fraud Unit relies on complaints from members of the public to prosecute individuals and businesses engaged in fraudulent practices.
To initiate a complaint with the Consumer Fraud Unit, please call 312-603-8700 from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM on weekdays.Â In some cases, you will be asked to file a written complaint, and in other situations, you may be referred to another government agency, private organization, or resource.Â Spanish language service is also available.
Additional advice for consumers and a downloadable Consumer Complaint Form are available in the â€œConsumer Fraudâ€ section on the Stateâ€™s Attorneyâ€™s website at www.statesattorney.org.