U.S. Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Safety Tips for Vacations
Be wary of great deals and super-low-priced offers
Say 'no' to high-pressure offers
Ask for details, details and more details. What does the price cover? What doesn't it cover? What about additional charges?
Get the names of hotels, airports, airlines and restaurants
Ask about cancellation policies and refunds
Get the name of the travel provider -- that's the company getting your reservations and tickets
U.S. regulators announce travel-scam charges
August 3, 1999
Web posted at: 3:01 p.m. EDT (1901 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States' federal government and 21 states have announced charges against 25 companies alleged to mislead customers about vacation packages or travel services.
In a Tuesday news conference, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) introduced what it calls "Operation Trip Trap" and warned consumers against what it says is travel fraud.
According to the FTC, the companies in question have bilked customers out of money by overstating amenities; telling travelers they've won trips they haven't; hiding extra charges in "all-inclusive" packages; and charging for products and services they never delivered.
"In short, they sold dream vacations that turned out to be nightmares," says Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Hundreds of unwary consumers got caught in the odious trip trap."
Bernstein also says the companies often haven't made it clear that consumers are required to spend part of their vacation hearing lengthy sales pitches for timeshare accommodations.
In announcing the FTC's action, Bernstein introduced Vicki Walker, a mother from Oregon whose daughter went on a trip to Mexico through a company that promised responsible supervision. Walker says the supervision was lacking. She describes a wet T-shirt contest said to have been instigated by flight attendants.
"The girls were allowed into the cockpit," Walker says. "The pilots judged the girls after they were wet down, and you wondered who the hell was flying this airplane."
She says the trip encouraged binge drinking and debauchery.
"Every activity offered to these students involved sexual games, so now in Oregon -- with assurance of voluntary compliance -- if they're going to have a fake orgasm contest, they need to state that in their brochure," Walker says.
The FTC says it has filed cases against:
American International Travel Services Inc., also doing
business as Magic World Tour & Travel and as Silver Lake Resort;
First Impressions Inc., also doing business as
Air-Land-Sea Reservations, Air-Land-Sea Travel, Vacations Are
Us and Vacation World;
All Around Travel Club Inc.;
ASQ Inc., also doing business as Resort World; and
Cervenik-Anderson Travel Inc., doing business as Student
Tours, College Tours and Mexico Tours.
Actions by state and other federal agencies make up the
remainder of cases being filed in "Operation Trip Trap," a total 25 companies.
The FTC says potential customers' names are often obtained through prize drawings at restaurants and state fairs, the Internet or telephone marketing. The agency says travel problems are now among the 10 most frequently heard consumer complaints.
The FTC suggests travelers protect themselves by getting complete information about an offer.
Paul Rudin, vice president for legal and industry affairs at the American Society of Travel Agents, says legitimate bargains are out there for the taking.
"There are deals to be had everywhere," he says. "You can find out from legitimate travel professionals, travel agencies and tour operators. There's no need for people to pursue these golden opportunities that turn out to be made of lead.
"The tragedy of all this is it is so unnecessary," Rudin says. "These huge, huge losses -- vast amounts of money being sucked out of the legitimate industry by these crooks -- are unnecessary because competition in this industry is rampant and vigorous throughout the country."
Reuters contributed to this report.