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Because Good Travel Agents Don't Hang Up When You Ask Questions

Nick Kenrick
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A fax arrived at KPLU not too long ago, claiming to be from the “HR Department.” Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.

The “memo” offered trips to Hawaii and various places in Mexico for just $148 per person, including meals, alcohol and lodging. So we called the 800 number attached to the ad and tried to ask some questions like, “Who are you, actually?” and “You still use a fax?!” But the man who answered hung up on us. Twice.

So we started thinking about travel scams, from the dishonest people who are looking to trap you with conditions and hidden fees to those who just want to steal your money outright.

Our travel expert Matthew Brumley offers the following advice:

1. Research The Company You’re Working With

A simple Google or Bing search is often enough to get you the information you need, especially if the company has a bad reputation.

“When people have been fooled they get really angry,” Brumley said. “They go on a mission, a crusade to go after that company.”

If you’re looking for official information, try the Better Business Bureau, which not only lists complaints but also tells you how many have been resolved. Every company gets complaints, but the really bad ones don’t even try to answer them.

2. You Shouldn’t Have To Give Personal Info To Get Itinerary, Pricing Info

Reputable firms will give you that information upfront. Beware of travel outfits that ask you to submit financial information before they tell you the fine print. Even Priceline, which asks low-fare bidders to put information in beforehand, explains the rules in detail before you commit.

3. You Never Have To Share Your Social Security Number

Remember this unless you’re vacationing at The White House. (And if you are, can we come along?)

4. Beware Of Third-Party Bookings

Tickets to museums and other tourist attractions can usually be purchased directly from the venue, in person or online. And there are plenty of people who will set up what appears to be the official the website of the place you’re visiting, but then tack on another 25 or 30 percent to the cost of a ticket. Extra fees should usually be disclosed.

And while it can be handy to go through a tour guide to get into busy sites (Pearl Harbor comes to mind. Ed breezed past the general public lines when he went with a professional tour guide) just make sure you know what you’re paying for, and that you feel it’s worth it.

5. Ask To Talk To Someone Who’s Done The Trip Before

Travel organizers will offer testimonials and some might even let you speak in person to their clients. And of course, sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor can offer advice and reviews from people who’ve done business with that company before.

6. Check For Catches, Extra Costs

That nicely-dressed guy with the sign and the badge in the airport offering the free tour probably wants you to sit through a sales pitch, too. Yeah, your lodging has “views,” but of what? And are there extra fees? Ask.

7. Common Sense Applies, Too

If they need you to make a decision right now, without time to think, be careful. And if it feels too good to be true...well, you know the rest.

Here’s more advice from the Washington state Attorney General. Do you have advice for us? Or cautionary tales? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


"Going Places" is KPLU’s weekly exploration of travel, near and far. It’s co-hosted by Ed Ronco and travel expert Matthew Brumley, founder ofEarthbound Expeditions, which guides tours for clients including KPLU. 

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.