The recent story about Melody Swoap cheating a bunch of dance students out of nearly $60,000 and destroying their dreams of a Disney vacation gave me chills. I fail to understand how people like that can sleep at night. I guess for some, it really is just about money and greed. Sigh…
Luckily, most Disney vacation planners are wonderful people who just want their clients to have a great time on their Disney vacation! Travel scams like the one perpetrated by Melody Swoaps are, thankfully, very rare. The question, though, is how can you tell the difference between someone who will make your Disney dreams come true and someone who will plunge you into a nightmare?
As I read the story of Melody Swoaps, there were many red flags that a seasoned travel agent would have seen but the average consumer might have missed. Here are five tips to help you avoid travel scams:
NEVER send money directly to a travel agency. This was the biggest red flag in the story — they sent checks directly to Melody made out to her travel agency. Legitimate travel agencies process your credit card directly through the destination. My clients never see a charge from MMP Travel. It is always from Disney, Universal, Norwegian Cruise Line, etc. My agents and I process payments directly through the vendor. The agency never gets paid directly. If a client wishes to send a check, it goes directly to the vendor, never to the agency.
Don’t depend on authorizations or certifications — Melody Swoap claimed to be an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. She may have been. All that means is that you have booked a certain number of Disney trips. It does not mean Disney has vetted the agency in any other way. The same is true for any certifications where an agency or agent is a destination specialist. This just means the agents have completed an online course. It doesn’t say anything about how the business is run.
Skip the amazing deal — The old adage, “If something is too good to be true, it probably is” is absolutely true in the travel industry. Most destinations offer the same “deals” to all travel agencies to market. Some agencies may throw in a bit or an additional discount or a freebie, but if an agency is giving you a quote that is significantly lower than any others you’ve seen, walk away. Chances are, it’s a travel scam.
Ask for referrals — Most smaller agencies rely on word of mouth for their business and you
should do the same when choosing an agency. Ask family, friends and Facebook buddies who they like. Check forums or message boards devoted to your destination to find a great agent.
Put it on hold — Unless you are traveling on short notice, your travel agency should be able to put your vacation on hold with no deposit for a few days. They can provide you with a confirmation from the destination and you can call the destination directly and verify the arrangements.
While you can never be 100% protected from travel scams (unfortunately) following these rules and relying on common sense and gut instinct will go a long way to ensuring you get the vacation you paid for.
“Wait”, you’re thinking, “Why don’t I just book directly with the destination and avoid the issue entirely?” Of course, you can do that but you give up all the free services and expertise that a great travel agent provides. Plus, you will often end up paying more for your vacation! Rather, find a travel agent you can trust and you can have years of affordable, unforgettable trips!
Christine Hardenberger Owner/Travel Specialist MMP Travel
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