Q: We are considering a cruise during the winter months; what advice does the BBB have regarding the cruise industry?
A: In winter nothing sounds better than relaxing under a tropical sun. Winter and spring are prime cruising months, but the Better Business Bureau is advising consumers to read all of the fine print before signing up for a special cruise deal.
In 2011, BBB received more than 1,300 complaints against cruise operators. While most cruise deals are legitimate, there are always those sneaky few that end up sucking thousands of dollars from victims. BBB is urging consumers to be cautious of unsolicited mail with offers of free or discounted cruises.
Many times, scammers will send numerous e-mails, postcards, and other mailings trying to get you to call them to claim your “free cruise.” Don’t be fooled by professional looking websites that make this “free cruise” offer either. Gather as much information as you can about the business, and ask a lot of questions before signing on the dotted line.
BBB and CruiseCritic.com recommend the following tips to consumers who are looking to book a cruise getaway:
- Do not be a victim. Often vacation scammers will use high-pressure sales tactics and make you feel coerced to buy the limited-time deal on the spot. A reputable business or travel agent will provide any information that you request, and give you time to decide before booking a vacation.
- Always check the business first. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Before giving a business any personal information, check out their BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org/search. Consumers can also contact the Cruise Lines International Association for information on finding a reputable travel agent.
- Pay with a credit card. For your best protection against a dishonest seller of travel, always pay for your cruise fare — both the initial deposit and the final payment — with a major credit card such as Mastercard, Visa or American Express.
If problems arise, you may be able to dispute the charges with your credit card company. Important note: This protection may not apply to those using debit or check cards; it is important to confirm policies with your issuing bank before you charge.
- Ensure your money is in the right hands. After you have made a payment, review your credit card or bank statement and make sure that any applicable charges originate directly with the cruise line, not with the travel agency. That way, you will know that the cruise line has definitely received your money. If you must pay by check or money order, it should be made payable to the cruise line — not to the agency or to an individual.
- Get proper confirmation of your booking. Insist on getting the actual cruise line’s confirmation numbers, not just a confirmation number from your agency. Not only will you then know that your information and money is in the right hands, but you will also be able to reserve shore excursions, restaurant and spa visits on the cruise line’s website.
- Do not be afraid to ask lots of questions. Before signing on the dotted line make sure all of the details have been clearly outlined and the pricing has been thoroughly explained. Double check whether there are hidden cancellation fees, port charges or insurance processing fees that have not been covered.
- Consider investing in travel insurance. Travel insurance can provide protection in the event of an accident, an illness, lost luggage or a canceled or interrupted trip. Follow the same steps outlined here when buying travel insurance.
Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.