September 27, 2017, a well known travel agent in the New Jersey area was convicted in court for fraud. The agent collected monies in exchange for booking vacations for several groups and either cancelled their trips after she collected their funds, or never booked them to begin with.... Which, sidebar, what makes you think you would get away with that anyways?! If a customer knows your business and contact information, they will turn you in... Unless you tried to flee the country with a couple hundred grand, which is what she made with her fraudulent actions. Every client will EXPECT to go on vacation if they have planned and paid for it. Travel Agent fraud makes zero sense, but it is a very very VERY real thing. Which is why the state of California makes it difficult for us to do our jobs. But I have to agree with their aggressive steps, they are trying to protect you from people preying on your family's hard earned money and vacation time. But how can you know if your agent is trustworthy and reliable? There are some warning signs that I will share with you to help you spot them.
I feel it prudent at this time to insert the obligatory and very biased statement about our business: At No Excuses Travel, we go the extra step to make sure every booking is done to our client's high expectations and in accordance with federal and state laws. Your boy ain't serving hard time for a couple dollars...
First of all, no matter what any state agency says. Do not ever ask a travel agent for their IATAN or CLIA numbers. Those numbers are used by the travel agency to book clients on trips. If someone was able to get a hold of those numbers, they would be able to book and commit fraud in the name of a respectable travel company. Agents will not give these numbers out, so there is zero need to request them. It is not a sign of a trustworthy travel agent to begin with. What you can do though is check your agent trough the International Airline Travel Agent Network (IATAN) or the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). For instance, we are listed with ASTA, who advocates for travel professionals, suppliers, and the traveler. If you see a travel agency listed on ASTA or IATAN, there is a very good chance they are a trustworthy agency.
On top of being a trustworthy company, you also want to watch for agencies that actually return your calls or emails in a timely manner. Believe it or not, this is a big warning sign to look for. There are some agencies that will pass you off, or not return your calls or emails inquiring about vacations. Good agents will go out of their way to contact you. With mobile phones and virtually unlimited access to email, social media, and text messages, there is no excuse for an agent not returning your calls. A good agent will return your calls, respond in a timely manner to any questions even after they have collected your money, and check on you prior to, during, and after your trip. And while we are on the topic of good communication, a good agent will communicate with you clearly and listen to you when you communicate your needs and concerns. If you have to repeat yourself to your agent several times, chances are it is time to find you a new agent... and we are accepting clients... Fancy that!
Knowledge of where you are going is also a must. Having an agent that has actually been to the destination in question is always a valuable resource and they can be relied on to give to the best information possible. Even if an agent hasn't been to the destination in question, Google that *expletive*! You wouldn't buy a TV from someone who just shrugged their shoulders at you in the store, so don't do it with your vacation! Get someone who cares about your destination, where you go when you are there, and how you get back.
And Finally, how an agent works with your money is probably the biggest sign of a good or bad agent. First, a good agent will also never demand straight cash homey! There is never a need for a cash only payment... Don't get caught up in that scam. Also, do not continue to pay on a vacation if you do not receive a receipt of payment towards your vacation when you pay for it. If you are making payments on a vacation, demand a balance owed from the booking engine. Do not accept generic emails typed from random agent guy with just a balance owed. Most agents will go through a third party supplier who will provide an itinerary and receipt of payment with their logo and detailed invoice. Don't just ask for it, demand it. This is your money after all. During our cruise, we went the extra step to call the cruise line to make certain our cruise was booked when we used our travel service. Trust but verify! Lastly, if an agent acts funny when you ask about a commission, then chances are they are hiding something. Good agents will be upfront with their commission percentage if asked by their clients. We make money when you book vacations, knowing how much you pay us should be shared if asked. Oh! I promise this is the last one, if an agent tries to collect a booking fee AFTER you have paid up, they are trying to scam you or are being dishonest about what you are actually paying for.
There are some other signs that you should look out for, like if they have a professional looking website that is aesthetically pleasing, offers you an array of travel information, and greets you with a warm virtual handshake, or fist dap, ...or hug! Whichever you are most comfortable with. In any business, if a purveyor of goods cannot communicate coherently, you wouldn't buy from them... or I hope you wouldn't. Take our website for example, it was designed as if some coding warlock descended from the sky and blessed mankind with his greatest masterpiece. And the eloquent writing?! Shakesperian at least... Not my words... Check it out if you don't believe me! And while you are there, book a trip!
Until next time!
-The No Excuses Travel Team