Travel experts warn about spring break scams

(U-WIRE) CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – To spend a relaxing spring break under the sun and not in an airport terminal, students should take precautions to avoid scams.

“The No. 1 way students get scammed is when a friend of theirs works for a spring break outfit,” said Tom Betz, a lawyer with Student Legal Services. “If the friend can get a certain number of their friends signed up, they end up getting a free trip. It sounds great. But the person selling the package usually doesn’t know what the package consists of.”

The first thing to look at when making reservations for a spring break trip are the details from the company offering the trip, Betz said.

“Some of these packages can be too good to be true,” he said. “Ask questions. If you’re going down with 10 people, you don’t want to end up with a small hotel room with five cots.”

Another pitfall for travelers is paying a damage deposit before checking into their rooms.

“If you get to the hotel and have to pay a damage deposit in order to get the room, that might be the money you were planning on spending on food,” Betz said. “If you choose not to pay the deposit, often you won’t get a refund.”

Betz suggests students first make sure their hotel exists and then check to see if it requires a damage deposit or additional transportation costs.

“Some places say they are near the beach, but `near’ is a subjective term that might mean 100 feet or three miles,” Betz said.

Lisa Hettinger of L&L Travel in Champaign said most travel agencies will not book with a spring break company unless they know it to be reputable.

“If the company students are dealing with does not go through a travel agency, they are likely to get scammed,” Hettinger said. “Travel agencies are registered and have an ID number. If these companies don’t go through an agency, who’s to say they are going to be around tomorrow if you want a refund?”

Students mostly use cars, buses and planes to get to their vacation spots. Betz said these can also cause trouble.

“If you’re driving with a carload of people, that’s an immediate target for police,” he said. “They often get students for speeding and drugs. It’s ideal to prove them wrong.”

Buses make money by making sure the bus is full, Betz said. Some bus companies go to different college campuses to pick up travelers before going south.

“Make sure you know what the route is ahead of time,” Betz said. “It takes about 15 hours to drive to Panama City, maybe 20 by bus. You don’t want it to take 30. That could mean taking up a day and a half of your break.”

When it comes to flying, students can avoid being scammed by flying with a guaranteed ticket from a reputable airline.

“Get the ticket in your hand,” Betz said. “Don’t accept a promise of a ticket.”

-by Anne Ornatek, Daily Illini

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