Consumers will receive more phone calls, texts, or emails promoting “Free” travel as families search for ways to stretch their vacation dollars in tough economic times. The “You Won a Free Cruise” pitch is one of the top vacation solicitations that people report to the Better Business Bureau (BBB). So much so the Bureau has sent out continuous alerts and reminders that consumers need to be aware of potential schemes in which telemarketers attempt to persuade you that you’ve won a free cruise, vacation or car. There are various strings attached, some of which are not fully disclosed, and then there are the seasonal scams.
So What’s The Catch?
Travel wholesalers sell redeemable vouchers for cruises to timeshare and travel clubs which then give away those vouchers as incentives for consumers to tour a timeshare resort. These getaway vacations are often marketed as “free,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the trip is completely free or without restrictions. According to the BBB, consumers need to be aware of other expenses that may be involved. Air/Ground transfer to the port, including transportation and port fees. Those hidden costs of redeeming a free cruise can frequently catch consumers off guard.
In order to get the free cruise vouchers, you may have to attend a lengthy timeshare or travel club sales presentation. Cruises for two are generally for an inside stateroom on a less popular itinerary and usually on an older vessel. Again, you may be required to pay various taxes and fees in advance, as well as book your airfare through the company in order to get the free cruise. You might not get the best rate possible and you could end up being “locked in” to using those available airfares. In some cases, it might not be worth your time or money to accept the free cruise offer.
Protecting Yourself from Cruise Scams: Tips and Warning Signs
The greatest defense against fraud is to deal only with reputable cruise lines or travel agencies. Make sure you understand and read any contract carefully before accepting a free cruise. If you receive a call, text, or email out of the blue saying that you’ve won a free cruise vacation, beware. It could be a scam. Don’t give out personal information to someone you don’t know. To avoid being scammed, do your own research on the firm and trip itinerary before booking any cruise.
As special for the BBB, The Canton Repository published an article called:
BBB Straight Talk: Is That Free Cruise Really Free?
The Better Business Bureau has some advice for people who get phone calls, text messages, mailers, or emails about free cruises:
First, do some research on the travel company by searching the internet and by contacting the BBB. While online, check the company’s business profile at BBB.org.
• Ask for references of people who have been offered and taken a similar cruise and contact them.
• Read any contract carefully before signing or paying any money. Understand the company’s refund policy in the event you are not satisfied with the service.
• Ask for the location of the corporate headquarters, check it out to make sure it is an actual address, and the business is located there.
• Read any fine print for mandatory attendance at a timeshare or vacation club presentation.
• Consider any fees that are required to claim your trip. Does it still feel “free”? Do the fees seem reasonable?
Consumers Advocates Warn of Cruise Schemes
“Free trips or rewards that require a wire money transfer should be completely avoided,” says Lisa Ann Schreier – The Timeshare Crusader.
If you must pay expenses to collect a free cruise voucher, use a credit card so you can dispute the charge if necessary. There are scams that will outright steal your money and those bad actors don’t take credit cards. And, if fraudulent transactions are made on your credit card, your credit card company will support you.
Does A Free Cruise Still Sound Good?
If so, then read on about the red flags that the BBB is waving on “Free” vacations.
1. If you are proclaimed the winner of a drawing and don’t recall or have proof of the drawing, ask questions.
2. The trip sounds incredible, however, there is a suspicious catch to it such as a mandatory presentation, referral program, or some other catch.
3. Anytime someone says you must accept the offer now or it’s gone forever, walk away or hang up the phone.
Avoiding Travel Scams: Know How
Consumer education plays a major role in the prevention of travel scams. Only you can weigh the cost benefits of any offer and whether you will get the benefit of the bargain. This article is for informational purposes only and is not considered legal advice. Some of the information in this post comes from the Better Business Bureau.
Led by timeshare attorneys Michael D. Finn and J. Andrew Meyer, the Finn Law Group is a consumer protection firm that specializes in timeshare law. Our experienced timeshare lawyers have represented owners across the country. If you have questions about a free cruise offer, or if you would like to speak to an attorney about your timeshare contract, please contact us for a free consultation. You can reach us by phone at 727-214-0700 or Contact Us Online.
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