It’s that time of the year again when many people start thinking about booking their annual two weeks in the sun or long haul dream holiday and like so many decisions that people make nowadays, price is often a determining factor with cheaper being mistakenly confused for better. Aside from the oft-cited fact that price is what you pay but value is what you get, is the more ominous reality that is often just a few click away — that of the bogus website.
In much the same way that you can’t always believe what you read in the papers; neither can you always trust what you see online, just because the website looks professional and seems to tick all the boxes. If you happen to come across a website that is offering travel packages or flights to far flung destinations well below what anyone else appears to be selling them for then take stop and take a few moments to try and establish as to whether or not you’re being ‘played’. The incidence of online consumers falling prey to bogus travel websites is very much on the increase and whilst most instances tend to occur in large markets such as the US and UK, the fact of the matter is that online recognises no borders and if you happen to get stung by one of these sites then you’ll be very much up the creek without your proverbial paddle.
Nick Trend, Telegraph Travel’s consumer editor and the Association of British Travel Agents rcently compiled the following advice on the warning signs to look out for. ABTA said that, “a combination of these signs may well be an indication that the website you’re looking at is not legitimate.”
- Flight or holiday prices that are considerably cheaper than competitors. Flight prices are largely set by the airlines so although agents have some leeway in price, if the agent you’re contacting is charging significantly less than everyone else, this could be a sign that something is not quite right. Nick Trend said: “There are plenty of agents who negotiate fares and deals which are cheaper than buying from the airlines direct – Trailfinders and Dialaflight, for example. But these are nearly always on long-haul rather than short-haul routes to Europe. But it is true that very cheap deals can be a warning sign.”
- Low resolution, “fuzzy” logos for trade associations and credit card companies. Nick Trend said: “Before booking, check with the protection organisation (Atol) or trade body (Abta or Aito, for example) that the company is a still licensed to trade.”
- The only payment option is a bank transfer. Not only is this an indication that no bank is prepared to provide credit card facilities, but if you are dealing with a scammer it will be virtually impossible to get your money back. Nick Trend added: “Even if it is slightly more expensive, it is nearly always a good idea to pay by credit card – it will protect your money if the company you pay goes out of business or turns out to be fraudulent.”
- Non-receipt of tickets – constantly being “fobbed off”.
- If a company is defrauding people, there is a good chance that consumers will post details of their experiences and warnings about the company. So if for any reason you’re not sure, do a search online before booking.
Meanwhile, stateside, you might want to check out either www.ripoffreport.com where consumers post examples of fraudulent behaviour including bogus websites promoting travel offers that er too good to be true whilst The following UK-based website also provides readers with a comprehensive listing of all the various scams being perpetrated online and the warning signs to look out for.
Yes, there will be times when booking through a traditional travel agent may end up costing you a little bit more but consider all of the benefits that you, as a consumer enjoy as a result:
All Irish travel agents must, by law, be government licensed and bonded so that any monies that you pay over to them are 100% secure — even if the travel agent subsequently goes bust. Travel agents pay hefty insurance policies or must have substantial sums of money on deposit with the commission for aviation regulation in order to secure their license in the first place. Contrast that with the fact that online, no one has to be bonded, licensed or otherwise regulated if they are trading out of another jurisdiction that is not covered by Irish or European law.
Travel agents travel for a living so they’ve already been to many of the places that people tend to go to and so are best positioned to speak with some authority on the pros and cons of one destination, resort or property over another and will often make suggestions for things that you didn’t even think of or were aware were relevant in order to ensure that you, as their client, have the best possible holiday experience.
Travel agents, contrary to popular belief, do not actually make a lot of money off the travel services that they provide with the result that they depend on volume of transactions in order to make up the relatively modest profits that they earn on each individual transaction. Consequently, they depend very much on repeat business in order to make a living and it’s that dependency on repeat customers that ensures that your average agent will go to the ends of the earth in order to create a positive consumer experience each and every time as they know that the ultimate differentiator is service, not price!