With the National Football League playoffs underway and the Super Bowl approaching, sports fans around the country will be looking for travel bargains and packages for the big game. ASTA offers some recommendations for fans evaluating travel packages, including use of a travel agent. ASTA also warns that sporting events present an opportunity for disreputable tour operators and travel scam artists to defraud sports fans of millions of dollars each year.
"Every year, we hear reports of sports fans whose travel plans were ruined by a questionable organization with an offer that sounded too good to be true," said ASTA President and Chair Chris Russo . "Following some simple advice and asking a few questions can help ensure that fans' Super Bowl dreams won't end in heartache."
ASTA offers the following guidelines – one of a series of consumer information releases sent to national media - to help consumers minimize risks when booking tours in conjunction with special events:
* Check the tickets. Make sure when booking a sports package that the arrangements include tickets to the desired sporting event. The U.S. government’s ‘Truth in Ticketing’ rules, require that a tour operator advertising a Super Bowl travel package that includes a flight and game tickets must have the game tickets in hand or have a written contract for the tickets before they can even advertise.
* Plan wisely. Book tour packages through a travel agent or tour operator affiliated with a professional organization, such as ASTA. For example, ASTA is the only travel trade association with a Consumer Affairs function that can mediate some disputes for consumers and ASTA member travel agents.
* Protect yourself. Make sure the tour operator participates in a consumer protection plan. ASTA’s Tour Operator Program (TOP) helps travel agents and consumers identify ASTA tour operators that meet certain standards. The criteria require that the tour operator be in the business of operating tours for the past three years; have a $1 million Errors & Omissions (E&O) policy naming travel agents as additional insured; and adhere to the ASTA and TOP code of ethics.
* Read the fine print. Get information about the tour package and tour operator in writing. Read the information carefully and ask your travel agent to explain all the details.
ASTA also offers the following suggestions when evaluating any travel offer to help avoid being a victim of a travel scam.
* Be extremely skeptical about postcard and phone solicitations saying you've been selected to receive a fabulous vacation.
* Never give out your credit card number unless you initiate the transaction and you are confident about the company with which you are doing business.
* You should receive complete details in writing about any trip prior to payment. These details should include the total price; cancellation and change penalties, if any; and specific information about all components of the package.
* If you insist on calling a 900-number in response to a travel solicitation, understand the charges and know the risks.
* Walk away from high-pressure sales presentations which don't allow you time to evaluate the offer, or which require that you disclose your income.
* Be suspicious of companies requiring that you wait at least 60 days to take your trip.
* Properly vet any tour operator by checking its Better Business Bureau record and by checking to see if the company’s name surfaces on any scam websites.
If you think you've been scammed, contact your local Better Business Bureau, your local or state Consumer Affairs Office, state attorney general's office, or e-mail ASTA's Consumer Affairs department at [email protected] for information and assistance.