Q: Our family is planning a vacation this summer, what advice may BBB offer for a successful trip?
A: When planning an event, looking for a good deal for a family vacation, or a getaway, the Better Business Bureau encourages people to plan ahead to save money, avoid scams, and travel safely.
Scammers will often target people looking for great deals online by offering tempting vacation packages at unrealistically low prices. One place to begin an online search is BBB.org for finding reputable travel agencies, agents and websites.
BBB adds the following tips to help ensure an enjoyable vacation:
Plan ahead. Allow plenty of time to research hotels, flights, and the area where you will be staying. Typically, the earlier reservations are made, the better the deals and the lower the risk of the destination being booked solid. Making reservations in advance also locks in rates and prevents higher prices later during prime spring break, peak summer, or holiday travel seasons.
Avoid broad internet searches. Entering phrases like 'best deals' into whichever search engine used can sometimes bring up-websites that look official, but are designed solely to rip people off.
Be alert for travel scams. Watch out for phone calls or letters claiming a 'free trip' or websites offering prices that appear too good to be true. It's easy to extend questionable offers like these, but the vast majority of them leave hopeful travelers in limbo – and out money.
Do your homework. Ask family and friends to recommend a travel agent or travel website and visit BBB.org for free Business Profiles. Research the business and read customer reviews about any rentals under consideration.
Get trip details in writing. Before making a final payment, get all the details of the trip in writing. This should include the total cost, restrictions, cancellation penalties, and names of the airlines and hotels. Also, review and keep a copy of the airline's and hotel's cancellation and refund policies, as well as the cancellation policies of the travel agency or booking site used.
Consider travel insurance. Travel insurance covers things like trip cancellations or medical emergencies. There are different levels of coverage based on what type of plan purchased. Ask a lot of questions, and always read the fine print to see what's covered and what's not.
Pay with a credit card. Paying with a credit card provides additional protection if something should go wrong with the travel reservation.
Planning to travel internationally? Check to see if there are any advisories affecting Canada and the U.S. Travel Association, at www.ustravel.org for any issues that may impact the trip.
No matter when or where you are traveling, take extra precautions:
Wait to post on social media. It's fun to post adventures with friends and family, but wait until getting back from the trip. Photos and social media posts of the family having a great time also let's thieves know the house is empty.
Check your home insurance. If your home will be unattended while away, make sure you know your responsibilities under your home insurance policy. Some policies do not cover damage if nobody checks on your home for a certain amount of time.
Share a copy of the itinerary with a family member or close friend. Include the contact information of someone joining you on your trip.
Take a map. People rely heavily on smartphones and GPS. Consider having an atlas or hard copy map just in case of technical difficulties.
Check the weather conditions where you will be traveling and pack appropriate supplies and clothing.
Avoid traveling alone. Use the buddy system and stick with the group.
Use a hotel safe to store extra cash and keep any valuables under lock and key.
Visit www.bbb.org for consumer and business tips.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga