One Simple Step Would Have Saved This Group $67,000
Written by: Kuki
In this story (linked below), a group of 20 friends booked a group cruise to the Mediterranean, sailing from Barcelona, Spain. They did so using a Travel Agent who the leader of the group had used several times for different trips beginning in 2002.
This time something went wrong and the group lost all of their deposits, and payments made along the way, when the Travel Agent didn’t forward their funds to the cruise line, and they found themselves without reservations on the cruise line they thought they had booked and paid for.
Thankfully incidents like this are rare, though there was a similar incident in Florida several years ago that involved a Travel Agent I knew personally, and had done business with myself. In that case the group was larger, and the total amount of money lost was considerably higher. If my recall of the story is correct, the total in that case was nearer to $200,000. But, other than the scale the nature of both incidents was the same.
It’s also most likely the motivations for driving these Travel Agents to defraud their customers was the same; financial pressures that they couldn’t find a way to escape.
Whether the pressures were as a result of failing businesses or personal financial problems, that seems the most reasonable assumption to make that would drive long time working Travel Agents to steal from their clients… with full knowledge that in a short time they were going to be caught when those clients were unable to complete the travel they had paid for.
The results in both cases were the same; people left high and dry, robbed of their dream cruises and their money, with little recourse, other than reporting to the police, and having the perpetrators charged for their crimes, with likely little hope of recouping their losses.
Thankfully these types of incidents with Travel Agents are rare. But, they need never happen at all. Knowing one simple step would have saved these people’s cruises, their money, and all the aggravation they’ve had to endure.
NO ONE should EVER pay for their cruises (either deposits, interim payments, or final payments) using cash or cheques. One should ALWAYS use a Credit Card for these purchases, and BEFORE authorizing the Travel Agent to make those charges, have the Travel Agent verify that the charge to the Credit Card will be made directly to the cruise line, NOT to the account of the Travel Agency.
As soon as the charge is made one can easily verify the transaction with your Credit Card company; either online or with a phone call. This simple step directly prevents one from getting caught in a fraud, as was the case in the two incidents I’ve discussed here. As well the use of a Credit Card comes with other protections for your purchase, because if a problem arises, your Credit Card company can be called in to represent your interests, and if your complaint is legitimate they will get your money refunded.
I firmly believe it is in the best interest of people booking cruises to use the services of Cruise Travel Specialist Travel Agents when booking cruises. I also believe that 99 % of Travel Agents are legitimate, and reliable. But, it also the responsibility of the consumer to do their utmost to protect themselves before turning over their money. In tough economic times, one never knows when otherwise trusted professionals will be driven to such fraudulent acts. Yet, it’s so very easy to protect yourself from those situations.
The biggest problem with the Travel Agent business is, other than the law of the land (police and courts) there is no real regulatory body governing the way Travel Agents do business. Trade organizations such as CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) and IATA (International Association of Travel Agents) are simply industry associations established to train and promote the industries. They do not regulate the industry, adjudicate issues with their members, or even investigate consumer complaints. Their requirements for membership in their organizations are solely based on internal minimums, and payment of membership fees, with no thought to consumer protections. If they were to raise their membership requirements to include penalties for consumer protection it would certainly make the Travel Agent and Cruise Industry much more trusted in the eyes of the consumer.
As it stands now, as with the leader of the group from Gloucester, incidents such as reported here, drive her and others to booking directly with the Cruise Lines, rather than using the services of experienced Travel Agents. It`s my view that consumers interests are much better dealt with by using well trained and experienced Travel Agents, that cost the consumer no more. However, I do believe the Travel Agent industry needs to step up and deal with issues of bad and criminal travel agents in order to make their industry more responsible.
Regardless of all that… use your Credit Cards as described earlier in this piece, NOT cash!
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Posted: July 12th, 2011 under Kuki.