Students planning vacation getaways over Spring Break could be taken for a ride if they aren't careful consumers, according to the Federal Trade Commission. A new FTC Fact Sheet, "Avoid A Spring Break Bust," warns that flights for many spring break trips are by public charters, which have different rules than commercial flights. Lots of students don't get the trip they planned because they don't take the time to evaluate the promotion and make sure it's not run by a fly-by-night company.
"If you're planning a vacation over Spring Break, do your homework now," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Consumers can avoid costly surprises by checking out the company offering their tour."
The President of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) agreed. "Travel Scams continue to be big business for the con-artists that target spring break travelers," said ASTA President and CEO Mike Spinelli. "All students considering spring break offers need to remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. ASTA, the FTC and College Parents of America are partnering to shed light on the potential problems associated with purchasing spring break offers. Travelers, on the other hand, need to be cognizant that not all travel promoters are scrupulous business people."
To prevent being taken by a first-class scam, the FTC and ASTA, in conjunction with the College Parents of America, offer the following tips:
- Avoid high pressure sales pitches and before you sign up, check out the tour operator with friends, local travel agents or ASTA's Consumer Affairs Department at 703-739-8739;
- If it's a charter flight, call the Department of Transportation Public Charter Licensing Division (202-366-2396) to make sure they're licensed to operate;
- Read the fine print in the contract before you sign it. It will tell you the conditions under which the operator can change or cancel the trip and the rules and penalties for cancellation. Charters can be canceled for any reason by the operator up until 10 days before the trip; flights can be changed and alternative hotels can be substituted. Ask about cancellation insurance.
- Know your rights. You have the right to cancel a charter package without penalty if a major change is made by the operator. DOT rules say that major changes include changes in departure or return date; change in destination; substituting hotels to one not named in the contract or a package price increase of more than 10 percent.
- Pay by credit card. It gives you more protection than cash or checks.
- Expect flight delays. They're common on charter flights. If mechanical problems cause the delay, charter operators can delay your departure by 48 hours without compensating you or providing alternate transportation. Check the contract to see if the operator will cover costs associated with flight delays not related to mechanical difficulties.
"College parents also can play a role in avoiding unnecessary financial loss, inconvenience and possible safety hazards by encouraging students to take the time to follow the precautionary steps in planning Spring Break travel," said Richard M. Flaherty, President of College Parents of America.
Copies of "Avoid A Spring Break Bust" and other consumer alerts are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-3128; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
Office of Public Affairs
Office of Consumer and Business Education