Travel Advisor: Summertime, and the traveling is not always easy

The summer solstice coincides with many people taking their vacations. When devising said plans, you need to be aware of the risks and scams and free-vacation ploys peppered throughout the internet.

By
June 2, 2019 04:41
WATCH OUT for the summer sun

WATCH OUT for the summer sun. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Know the risks:
Your smartphone, tablet, or any other device, is a full-fledged computer. It is susceptible to risks inherent in online transactions. When shopping, banking, or sharing personal information online, take the same precautions with your smartphone or other device that you do with your personal computer – and then some. The mobile nature of these devices means that you should also take precautions for the physical security of your device and consider the way you are accessing the Internet.

Do not use public Wi-Fi

Avoid using open Wi-Fi networks to conduct personal business, banking, or shopping online. Open Wi-Fi networks at places such as airports, coffee shops, and other public locations present an opportunity for attackers to intercept sensitive information that you need to provide to complete an online transaction.
If you simply must check your bank balance or make an online purchase while you are traveling, turn off your device’s Wi-Fi connection and use your mobile device’s cellular data Internet connection instead of making the transaction over an unsecured Wi-Fi network.

Turn off Bluetooth when not in use
Bluetooth-enabled accessories can be helpful, such as earpieces for hands-free talking and external keyboards for ease of typing. When these devices are not in use, turn off the Bluetooth setting on your phone. Cyber criminals have the capability to pair with your phone’s open Bluetooth connection when you are not using it and steal personal information.

Be cautious when charging
Avoid connecting your mobile device to any computer or charging station that you do not control, such as a charging station at an airport terminal or a shared computer at a library. Connecting a mobile device to a computer using a USB cable can allow software running on that computer to interact with the phone in ways that a user may not anticipate. As a result, a malicious computer could gain access to your sensitive data or install new software.

Don’t fall victim to phishing scams
If you are in shopping mode, an email that appears to be from a legitimate retailer might be difficult to resist. If the deal looks too good to be true, or the link in the email or attachment to the text seems suspicious, do not click on it! So often clients come to me after they’ve fallen victim to what they were certain was a great deal.

What to do if your accounts or credit card are compromised?

If you notice that one of your online accounts has been hacked, call the bank, store, or credit card company that owns your account. Reporting fraud in a timely manner helps minimize the impact and lessens your personal liability. You should also change your account passwords for any online services associated with your mobile device using a different computer that you control.

You work hard and need a vacation?
 Before you start relaxing to the sound of the waves or visiting your far-flung family around the world, do some smart travel shopping first – not only to end up with a great trip and a good deal, but also to avoid a scam. Deal with travel companies you trust. Never purchase anything without getting a written explanation of the company’s cancellation and refund policies, and ask “What if...?” I always prefer an informed consumer. It makes my job that much easier. And if someone says you’ve won a “free” vacation but need to pay? Just walk away.

How to shop for travel
The key to planning a good trip is making sure you’re buying from travel businesses you know and trust. All travel advisers are cognizant that you have a choice. They covet repeat customers and should treat you accordingly.

Get recommendations

Ask family and friends about the companies they use and like, and look online to see what people are saying about their service and prices. Call or go online to verify your reservations and arrangements. It’s true airlines no longer require you to confirm a flight, but by doing online check-in you’re giving them your details so they can contact you if there is a delay in your flight.
Get the details about any “five-star” resorts or “luxury” cruise ships they promise – including what other travelers have had to say about them. Some companies market below-average vacation accommodations as “luxury” or “five-star.” Like art, luxury or five-star is in the eyes of the beholder. If you can’t get a person from the travel company on the phone to answer your questions, consider taking your travel business elsewhere.

Consider cancellation insurance
Consider whether some form of travel cancellation insurance is appropriate. Make sure the product you’re being sold is a licensed insurance policy. Pay by credit card. It gives you more protection than paying by cash or check. If you don’t get what you paid for, you may be able to dispute the charges with your credit card company. However, don’t give your account number to any business until you’ve verified its reputation.

Consider using a travel app
Travel apps can help you search for airfares and hotel rates, get fare alerts and real-time deals, and manage your itinerary.
Ask about mandatory hotel “resort fees.”

When you book a hotel room online, you expect that the rate you see is the rate you’ll pay. But extra costs often called “resort fees” – for services like fitness facilities or Internet access – can add to the per-night cost of your stay. More important, the fees are mandatory: you must pay them regardless of whether you use the services.

Many people don’t find out about the fees until they arrive at the hotel – or worse, when they check out. You can’t compare rates for different hotels unless you know all the fees. If you’re not sure whether a website is showing you the total price, call the hotel and ask about a “resort fee” or any other mandatory charge. Listing the “resort fee” near the quoted price or in the fine print – or referring to other fees that “may apply” – isn’t good enough. If you find out a hotel hasn’t told you the whole story about mandatory fees, in addition to complaining to the company, file a complaint with your travel adviser or the consumer bureau in the country where the resort is located.

Signs of a scam
Scammers may call or use mail, texts, faxes or ads promising free or low-cost vacations. In reality, those vacation offers may end up charging poorly disclosed fees or may be fake, plain and simple. Here are some telltale signs that a travel offer or prize might be a scam:

You “won a free vacation” – but you have to pay some fees first: A legitimate company won’t ask you to pay for a prize. Any company trying to sell you on a “free” vacation will probably want something from you – taxes and fees, attendance at mandatory timeshare presentations, even pressure to buy “extras” or “add-ons” for the vacation, etc. Find out what your costs are before you agree to anything.

The prize company wants your credit card number: Especially if they say it’s to “verify” your identity or your prize, don’t give it to them.
They cold-call, cold-text, or email you out of the blue.

They don’t – or can’t – give you specifics.
They promise a stay at a “five-star” resort or a cruise on a “luxury” ship. The more vague the promises, the less likely they’ll be true. Ask for specifics, and get them in writing. Check out the resort’s address. Look for photos of the ship.

You’re pressured to sign up for a travel club for great deals on future vacations: The pressure to sign up or miss out is a signal to walk away. Travel clubs often have high membership fees and limited choice of destinations or travel dates.
You get a robocall about it: Robocalls from companies trying to sell you something are almost always illegal if you haven’t given the company written permission to call you.

Understand your rights
Israelis have protection under the Aviation Services Law, which lays out in great detail the level of compensation due for any of the following: reimbursement of consideration, a replacement flight ticket and financial compensation and assistance services. European carriers fall under even more draconian arrangements but like El Al are reticent in sharing the details.
Never accept an airline’s offer of compensation without first verifying that you are not due far more. By accepting a token remuneration, you forfeit the right to receive just compensation.
 Please note this is separate then the Israeli Consumer Protection Law allowing for a flight ticket to be canceled within a specific time frame and receive the majority of the funds paid refunded.

Safe travel

I’ve observed organizations and individual travelers become more proactive in their preparation for travel. Specifically, I’m seeing an increased awareness of the need for solid planning and training prior to their departure. This awareness isn’t just born of panic – it’s actually warranted. The prevalence of man-made and natural disasters have increased significantly over the past 40 years. Terrorist incidents, category 4 and 5 hurricanes, and infectious disease all are up.

For Leon and Debbie, the off-season deal at the Mexican resort in the Riviera Maya sounded almost too good to be true, but the flight was seamless, the hotel fantastic, the food delicious. Everything, in fact, had been perfect – until on their third day of their vacation, they heard the news that a major tropical storm was headed their way. The hotel staff posted a bulletin about hurricane preparation, and rumors started circulating that the property – in fact the whole area – may be evacuated.

They quickly forget going home with great holiday memories. They wanted out and they wanted out now. Run they did. Their travel consultant got them on a plane before the airport was shut down.
Getting ambushed by a natural disaster is just one of the rare-but-catastrophic scenarios you might encounter while traveling. And though evacuating your hotel to stay safe during a hurricane may be scary, it’s not even the worst thing that could have happened on your trip. After all, you might have inadvertently broken a local law and been thrown in prison. Or suffered an appendicitis attack while trekking somewhere really remote.

While purchasing travel insurance is one of the best precautions you can take to guard against travel disasters, it’s not the only one. Doing research before your trip, and following some commonsense rules on the ground, can make a big difference in how disastrous your disaster turns out to be.

Planning to hike in the wilderness, where you might get terribly lost? Arm yourself with a whistle, provisions and protective clothing before you even set out.

Heading to a foreign city where losing your passport could cause big trouble? Make photocopies of it (and other ID) before leaving home – and keep them secure in your hotel room safe. Take a photo of your passport and keep it on your phone.

And though some disasters can really only be dealt with once they happen (how do you prepare, for example, to have your cruise ship chased by pirates?), having that travel insurance and keeping your head about you will go a long way.

Besides, there’s always one upside to travel disasters: once you’re home safe, with a little distance from your ordeal, you’ll have a great story to share.

My solid seven safety tips
that i willingly share:

1. Research your destination thoroughly before your trip
2. Keep your valuables on you while in transit
3. Only take what you need and leave the rest locked up
4. Don’t trust people too quickly
5. Watch your drinking
6. Blend in as much as you can
7. Spend extra money on staying safe

The road ahead may be long and winding but you’ll make it there safe and sound.

Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.
For questions and comments email him at mark.feldman@ziontours.co.il


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