(U-WIRE) BOSTON – The glossy travel brochure on Bobi Slabin’s lunch table showed beautiful young men and women sunbathing on white beaches, relaxing under a clear blue sky.
Her spring break, the literature promised, could resemble this pictured paradise – for a few hundred dollars.
Slabin, a College of Arts and Sciences freshman at Boston University, was unimpressed.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, she said. It seems sketchy. It’s just too good to be true.
Rachel Brasier, who works for Touraine Vacations and Cruises, agreed students eager to get away for spring break easily can be attracted to tour packages promising cheap vacations full of amenities. Many packages include meal plans, parties, nightclub admission and drink coupons.
But there can be trouble in paradise.
Brasier said fly-by-night firms often stuff their brochures with bonuses to compensate for a shoddy vacation package.
They’re cheaper for a reason, Braiser said.
In the past, Brasier encountered problems with spring break tour operators, whose dream vacations often become real nightmares.
When travelers register for a vacation, they tell tour operators what weekend they would like to leave, and it becomes the operators’ responsibility to book the flight.
Upon booking a vacation several months or weeks in advance, travelers are told to be ready to leave anytime during that weekend but are assured they will be given the departure time several days in advance. In some cases operators fail to notify travelers and, in extreme cases, fail to book tickets altogether.
Occasionally, a tour operator will go broke and cancel a tour. Students usually get their money back, but the refund process can be lengthy. Despite problems, travel agencies routinely book vacations through tour operators, Brasier said.
We actually go and talk to these companies, she said. We try to see who’s been around for more than a year.
Traditionally tour operators offer trips to destinations such as Cancun, the Bahamas, Jamaica, San Juan, Miami Beach, Nassau, Panama City, Daytona Beach and South Padre Island.
What Brasier did not mention, but is displayed prominently on most brochures, is the 18-and-over drinking age in most Caribbean countries.
If a potential consumer asks a routine travel question and receives an indirect answer, it could be an indication of a serious problem. Raposa recommends booking trips through an established travel agency, one affiliated with the American Society of Travel Agents, to avoid spring break tour scams.
Obviously a reputable travel agency will only book tours with a reputable tour operator, Raposa said.
Similarly, trade groups such as the United States Tour Operators’ Association or the National Tour Association exist to ease consumers’ worries about fraudulent companies.
When the time comes to make a trip deposit or payment, Raposa recommends paying by credit card. If a tour operator refuses to accept it and demands a personal check or cash, it may be a sign of a scam.
Consumers should also be wary of small print or asterisks that alter the meaning of advertised prices and promises.
To minimize miscommunication, travelers may want to seek confirmation of package details, he said.
You should ask to get everything in writing, Raposa said.
– Ray Henry
The Daily Free Press (Boston U.)