FAIRBANKS — Summer season is here, and despite many Alaskans heading Outside for vacation, there are those of us who will spend our time off right here in the state. Camping and fishing are top favorites, as are visits to popular Alaska attractions and typical tourist spots. Just like visitors coming from Outside, Alaskans will also be busy booking fishing charters and tours for themselves.
Despite being familiar with the area, it’s important to be vigilant when arranging in-state trips. Travel and vacation scams are a big problem. In the past year, there were 665 travel scams reported to Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker/us) — and we know that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
You may come across ads on social media and in emails offering deeply discounted pricing for travel packages. But, buyer beware. To make sure you aren’t downloading anything harmful to your computer, search the ad’s keywords directly in your browser. Carefully study the website and look to see whether there is a physical address and contact information. Be wary of sites with just an 800 phone number and a place to fill out your information for questions.
You can also research businesses online by taking a close look at their online reviews. Search the company online to see whether there are any surprising posts or news articles about the business. According to BBB’s 2017 Trust Sentiment Index (https://go.bbb.org/2yAvGXp), 55 percent of respondents always or often use ratings and online reviews to make decisions. Call the company to see whether you can talk to an actual person and ask questions. And check BBB’s website, bbb.org, to read the company’s Business Review. Look to see whether there are any reviews or complaints about the company. Sometimes complaints are inevitable, but check to see whether the company is responding to the complaints and doing its best to work with the customer.
Get all details in writing, including confirmations and cancellation and refund policies. If using a third-party travel site, take the time to verify your reservation directly with the company. This can save you from finding out there isn’t a reservation before you arrive.
Consider paying with a credit card, as this gives you added protection should you need to cancel the trip or, even worse, if you have to ask for a refund. If you pay by cash, debit card, check or wire transfer, it is more difficult to get your money back. Also, don’t hesitate to ask about the payment process. If you are buying a travel package, you want to know Whether you can pay by installments or whether the company requires all of the cost to be paid upfront.
Watch for hidden fees such as processing, peak travel charges, late booking, unauthorized travel insurance or fuel surcharges. And sometimes usage of the fitness center or internet access may be extra.
Be skeptical of any promotions promising a “free” vacation or trip. Sometimes you need to sit through a high-pressure sales presentation for a travel club/time share or similar promotion only to find that the “free” airline ticket or hotel stay is a voucher with fees that cost more than the plane fare or accommodations would have cost.
There are many unique and exciting attractions to experience in our state. Do your research and then go and enjoy your vacation!
Michelle Tabler is Alaska regional manager of the Better Business Bureau.