ALBANY — State residents are being reminded of their rights as the summer travel season heats up.
Travel-related disputes remain one of the top complaints handled by the state’s Consumer Protection Division. The DCP handled hundreds of complaints last year from people who had to cancel or postpone their travel plans due to COVID-19.
As more New Yorkers travel again, consumers need to be aware of their rights, buy smart to protect their hard-earned money and stay vigilant to protect themselves from scams, state officials said.
“With flight cancellations on the rise and airport overcrowding, planning ahead and being prepared is the best way to avoid travel headaches,” said Secretary of State Robert Rodriguez, who oversees the Consumer Protection Division, in a press release. “If you plan to use air travel to support your travel plans, planning for cancellations and delays and building more time into your itinerary could save you frustration and money.”
SMART BUY FOR TRAVEL
There are some basic travel tips consumers should know when booking travel:
not Plan and wait for cancellations and delays. Pack a change of clothes, electronic device chargers, and snacks in your carry-on luggage to deal with travel disruptions. A cancellation that impacts your return home will require additional resources, budget for an extra day or two to maintain until you can return home.
not Book your tickets early in the morning. You will have more options to arrive at your destination in a timely manner.
not Consider going to a larger airport. Large metropolitan airports offer more direct flights than regional airports. Direct flights avoid missed connections and cancellations in a city outside your city of residence or destination.
Consumers should always weigh the factors of a trip before purchasing, including price, location, activity availability, and cancellation policies. Also check if the location has any Covid-19 restrictions in place, such as testing or vaccination status, before booking the trip.
To obtain a secure digital copy of your vaccination record and/or negative COVID test result, you can collect your Excelsior Pass Plus here.
not Get all confirmations in writing.
To protect against scams via agreement changes, consumers should always get written confirmation of plans whether they book online, over the phone, or in person. Retailers are required to disclose terms and conditions to consumers. Always receive a copy of the agreement and keep it for reference.
not Beware of “all-inclusive” or too-good-to-be-true offers.
All-inclusive deals sound good, but may have hidden fees and charges in their terms and conditions. Consumers may not even be aware of these charges until check-out, when their bill is higher than advertised. Sometimes these offers are accompanied by an agreement to become a member or participate in a presentation.
not Always inquire about mandatory charges that may not appear in the advertised price, such as resort fees and taxes. Read the fine print when you take advantage of an “all-inclusive” offer.
not Evaluate the advantages of paying by credit card. Credit cards often offer more protection than paying by cash, check or debit card. Some credit card companies also offer benefits like travel insurance or concierge service during the trip and may offer additional protections if the trip is canceled. Ask your credit card company about the conditions for reimbursement of travel expenses.
not Review your travel arrangements.
The New York State Truth in Travel Act protects consumers against fraud, misleading advertising, misrepresentation and other abuses. Travel agents and promoters must provide consumers with written information of all travel service terms within five days of purchase or agreement.
Consumers should fully review the terms of the agreements upon receipt and ensure that they match what they purchased. Consumers have until midnight on the third business day following receipt of the agreement to cancel. Consumers can also cancel at any time during the five-day period prior to receiving the information.
not Use reputable travel agencies/tour operators.
Consumers should do thorough research before choosing an agent or company to work with. Keep track of arrangements and contracts, and review terms and conditions, especially cancellation and refund policies. Reservations often require a deposit which may not be refundable.
If the trip is cancelled, the deposit may only be applied to future travel or may be lost altogether. Consumers should ensure they understand the policy before making a deposit.
not Consider travel insurance and ask yourself if you need a cancellation policy for any reason.
Travel insurance can offer consumers emergency relief before or during their trip, as coverage ranges from incidents of lost baggage to missed connections to potential medical emergencies.
However, most standard travel insurance policies do not cover trip interruption or cancellation due to COVID-19, as these standard policies generally exclude coverage for an epidemic, pandemic or disaster. a similar public health event.
Some travel insurance plans offer “Cancel For Any Reason” coverage at an additional cost, which is often much higher than standard travel insurance and normally only allows up to 75% reimbursement of travel expenses. traveler if the trip is cancelled. Before buying a plan, review the policy terms and ask your insurer about coverage that might be excluded.
When all or part of a trip is cancelled, the cancellation policy and a consumer’s right to a refund vary depending on the laws that govern the industry of the company, who initiates the cancellation, when cancellation is done and the company’s own policy.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines must offer refunds, including the ticket price and any optional fees charged, for canceled or significantly delayed flights, even when flight disruptions are beyond their control. If an airline fails to do so, consumers should report it to the US Department of Transportation.
If consumers cancel a reservation for any reason, consumers will be subject to the refund policy agreed upon at the time of purchase, which may be no refund at all.
not Refund options for cruise passengers may vary by company. The cruise ticket contract sets out the company’s cancellation policies and your rights. For example, you may be offered a refund, credit or voucher for a future cruise. If you opt for a credit or voucher, make sure the expiration date is far enough away that you can use it. Learn more about consumer rights and the remedies you may have with the Federal Maritime Commission.
not Cancellation policies for hotels, motels, and online lodging marketplaces can vary widely, even within the same company depending on season, room type, or length of stay. Some may offer the choice of a refundable or non-refundable rate when booking. Make sure you understand the cancellation policy before making a reservation.
If a consumer is having difficulty obtaining a refund due for all or part of a canceled trip, they are encouraged to file a complaint with DCP.
The Federal Trade Commission warns of common travel scams. Here are some signs of a scam when booking a trip:
not You have “earned” a free vacation. Scammers will sometimes lure consumers with a free trip, but then disclose fees or deposits to access it. A price should not include expenses and is likely a scam.
not The details of your trip are vague. Consumers may be offered a stay at a five-star hotel or on a luxury cruise line, but few details about the trip are presented. Always confirm and revise the company name and location of travel details.
not You have a limited time to accept the offer.
Scammers often pressure consumers to make quick decisions about an offer, making it likely that the consumer won’t have time to investigate the offer. Never feel pressured to agree to terms that you haven’t reviewed for yourself.
not You have to pay in an uncommon way.
Cryptocurrency, wire transfers, and gift cards are hard to trace and perfect for scammers looking to take advantage of consumers. These types of payments make it difficult for consumers to recoup their losses. If a travel agency insists you pay in one of these ways, decline the offer and report the company.
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection offers voluntary mediation between a consumer and a business when a consumer has been unable to find a resolution on their own. J
The Consumer Helpline 1 (800) 697-1220 is available weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Consumer complaints can be filed anytime at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection.