The International Air Transport Association estimates that the airline and travel industries face a loss of around $860 million USD every year due to scammers.
From building fake websites to blatantly impersonating a travel agent, scammers will use every trick that they can think of to steal your money.
These are not rare occurrences either. The IATA also says that around 90% of all emails sent worldwide are spam, spoof, and phishing attempts. There is no need to be put off by travel agencies, though, just be smart.
Travel Agents: They Are Not Without Their Merit
Why do you need a travel agent?
- Travel agents frequently have connections with leading hotels and airlines. This can help you get fantastic deals on accommodations, tours, and flights.
- Your travel agent is your point of contact should anything go wrong on your trip. They will be able to help in the case of stolen or misplaced luggage, natural disasters, getting into legal trouble, etc.
A travel agent can be an extremely valuable asset, but you want to secure yourself against possible fraud. Read on to learn what to watch out for when booking with a new travel agency.
The Telltale Signs of Scamming Agencies
- If the agency you have chosen doesn’t have a physical office that you can visit, do not even contact them – choose another agency.
- If they have an office, an excellent Facebook page, and a great flyer program but no website, again, walk away.
- If the prices are too good to be true, they probably aren’t true. Avoid “steal deals” at any cost, unless they are from a verified company.
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Hidden Signs to Look Out for:
1. Weird Websites
Scamming agencies have scamming websites. Professional agencies have professional websites. To know the difference, look for these quality signals:
- Padlock in the top left corner
This shows that the website is secured with an SSL certificate, which helps secure your data (such as credit card information).
- Professional Design
The website of a travel agency is their most high-traffic area. Its design must please, and its language must inform. If either of these features is missing, look elsewhere.
2. Gmail (Generic Email)
Genuine businesses will go to the trouble of establishing custom emails for their employees. It’s inexpensive and looks professional. If the agency you’re considering has a website, but their email is generic, chances are you are dealing with a fake agency.
For instance, if you’re dealing with Cindy at a company called XYZ Travel, and her email address is [email protected], you’re probably fine. On the other hand, if her email is [email protected], it may not be a legitimate company.
3. No Membership to Global or National Associations
Your agency should be registered with at least one, but preferably multiple, travel agency associations. Some popular associations are The American Society of Travel Advisors, The United States Travel Association, and The International Airlines Travel Agent Network.
The logic behind this is that these associations have rigorous quality assessments, making it very hard for a scammer to gain membership.
Suppose your agency is a member of any such association. In that case, they will provide you with their membership number, which you can then verify on the particular association’s website. Not finding the agency on the association’s website is a significant red flag.
4. Private Bank Account Registration
If you are given a bank account number for the agency, it is always wise to phone the bank and determine if the bank account is registered to a business or an individual.
If the agency created the account for personal use, do not transfer any funds, no matter how credible the agency has been up to this point.
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5. Changing Agents Frequently
If you’ve confirmed your interest in their packages, but the agency keeps bouncing you around from agent to agent, reconsider your options.
Scammers use this tactic so that their victims don’t get too familiar with any particular employee. Legitimate travel agencies will often assign an agent to cater to your specific needs.
If your travel agent is unwilling to display the certifications of the agency, do not trust them. Similarly, if no documents prove that their business is indeed a business, find an alternative.
Tips To Get the Best Price At Any Travel Agent:
- Be Frank and Firm Regarding Your Budget. It’s your money; you get to choose how it’s spent. A good tactic is to tell the travel agent about 20% less than the number in your head.
- Do Your Own Research. If you have information about your destination beforehand, your travel agent will not hike their prices.
- Get Other Quotes. Make it known that you have consulted with other agents who are offering you a deal, and ask if they offer anything better. This move is likely to elicit a price drop.
How To Choose a New Travel Agent or Agency
- Pay Attention to Advertisements. Travel agencies will always advertise through media such as newspapers, websites, social media, and the radio. Look through these and identify potential candidates.
- Research, Review, and Remove. Thorough background checks are recommended. Go through their websites, social media accounts, and their print media to weed out any suspicious candidates on your list.
- Schedule an Appointment. Make a trip to their local branch, and observe everything.
- If You’re Satisfied, Book a Trip. If all these boxes have been ticked, go ahead.
- Do What You Paid for: Relax!
Other Ways to Save
One of the primary reasons to book your trip through a travel agent is to get a good deal. One way to potentially save some money after your trip begins is by purchasing a travel insurance or travel medical insurance plan. If you encounter an unexpected obstacle during your trip – lost luggage, flight delay, emergency health issues, and more – your insurance can financially compensate you for any covered situation. If your trip doesn’t go as you planned, your insurance can provide valuable protection.
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