Q. My family plans to take a plane for the vacation. COVID considerations make planning a lot more complex. What advice can BBB give when traveling?
A. Are you thinking of taking a plane during the holiday season? According to Airlines for America, airlines in the US have only served about a third as many passengers as they did a year earlier, and while many of them have enticing deals to fly, it costs airlines billions just to stay afloat. As the holiday season begins, some may feel the need to visit families. When looking for the best fare available, read the details the airline needs to travel safely and see the CDC guidelines at www.cdc.gov.
Before clicking the button to buy tickets, BBB recommends the following:
* Make sure that every traveler has the appropriate ID (www.tsa.gov). The deadline for the Real ID required by the TSA has been postponed to October 1, 2021. However, make sure that parties traveling together have current, compliant ID as required by each state.
* Read all cancellation policy carefully. Not all situations, including a pandemic, require a full refund of ticket value and fees. Every online travel agency, airline and broker is different.
* Book tickets only after reviewing travel restrictions. Save time and stress by checking the updated status of restrictions at www.cdc.gov on the Centers for Disease Control website.
* Consider travel insurance. Understand exactly what the policy does and what it doesn’t. Travel insurance covers things like travel cancellations or medical emergencies. There are different levels of coverage depending on the type of plan you purchase. Ask lots of questions and always read the fine print to see what’s covered and what’s not.
* Be an informed traveler. The Department of Transport’s website at www.transportation.gov provides details on consumer issues, filing complaints and other aviation information.
During the holiday season or any time of year, find ways to travel safely and avoid fraud at www.bbb.org. Be sure to report any suspicious activity. BBB warns people to plan ahead to save money, avoid fraud, and travel safely.
Scammers often target people looking for great deals online by offering enticing vacation packages at unrealistically low prices. BBB.org is a great resource for finding travel agents, travel agents, and websites that are reputable and reliable.
Here are some additional tips from BBB to ensure a worry-free vacation during the vacation.
Plan ahead. The early bird catches the worm. Take the time to research hotels, flights, and the area where you will be staying. As a rule, the earlier you reserve, the better the offers you will find and the lower the risk that your favorite destination will be permanently booked. Reserving in advance also locks rates and prevents you from paying higher rates later during the holiday season.
Avoid extensive internet searches. Avoid typing phrases like “best deals” into the search engine you are using. Such broad search terms sometimes lead to websites that look official but are only meant to rip people off.
Watch out for travel fraud. Watch out for calls or letters claiming you “won a trip” or websites with prices too good to be true. It’s easy to expand on questionable offers like this one, but the vast majority of them leave hopeful travelers in the balance – and out of money.
Do your homework. Invite family and friends to recommend a travel agent or travel website, and visit BBB.org for free business profiles. Anytime you use online services to find accommodations, you should research the company and read customer reviews on any rentals you are considering.
Receive written trip details. Before making the final payment, write down full details of the trip. This should include total costs, restrictions, cancellation fees, and airline and hotel names. Also, check and keep a copy of the airline and hotel’s cancellation and refund policy and the cancellation policy of the travel agent or booking site you use.
When you pay with a credit card, you get extra protection in case something goes wrong with your travel reservation.
Are you planning an international trip? Check for Canada (www.travel.gc.ca) and US Travel Association (www.ustravel.org) notices if you experience issues that could affect your travel.
No matter when or where you travel, there are things you should always do to protect yourself, your home and your belongings:
Wait until you post on social media. We all love to share our vacation adventures with friends and family, but wait until you get back from your trip. Providing too many details about when you will be away and your home will be empty could attract thieves.
Check your home insurance. If your home is left unattended while you are away, make sure you understand your home insurance responsibilities. Some guidelines don’t cover damage if no one looks home for a period of time.
Share a copy of your itinerary with a family member or friend. Provide contact information for someone to accompany you on your trip.
Take a map. People rely heavily on smartphones and GPS. If you have technical problems or if you are in an area with poor cell phone reception, create a hard copy backup. Check the weather conditions you are traveling in and pack appropriate supplies and clothing.
Avoid traveling alone. Use the buddy system and stay with your friends.
Use a hotel safe to store extra cash and keep valuables under lock and key.
Visit www.bbb.org for more consumer tips.
Jim Winsett is President of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga