ASTA helps agents evaluate sports travel packages

With the National Football League playoffs underway and the Super Bowl approaching, sports fans will be looking for travel bargains and packages for the big game. The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) offers some recommendations for fans and agents evaluating travel packages. “Without fail, every year we hear reports of sports fans whose travel plans were ruined by a questionable organization with an offer that sounded too good to be true,”says ASTA Nina Meyer. “Doing your homework and asking a few questions can help ensure that fans’ Super Bowl dreams won’t end in heartache.”Sporting events present an opportunity for disreputable tour operators and travel scam artists to defraud sports fans of millions of dollars each year. ASTA offers the following guidelines to help consumers minimize risks when booking tours in conjunction with special events: !!! Check the tickets. Make sure when booking a sports package that the arrangements include tickets to the desired sporting event. The US government’s “Truth in Ticketing”rules, require that a tour operator advertising a Super Bowl travel package that includes a flight and game tickets must have the game tickets in hand or have a written contract for the tickets before they can even advertise. !!! Do your homework. Book tour packages through a travel agent or tour operator affiliated with a professional organization, such as ASTA or ACTA. !!! Protect yourself. Make sure the tour operator participates in a consumer protection plan. ASTA’s Tour Operator Program (TOP) helps agents and consumers identify ASTA tour operators that meet certain standards. The criteria require that the tour operator be in the business of operating tours for the past three years; have a $1 million Errors & Omissions (E&O) policy naming travel agents as additional insured; and adhere to the ASTA and TOP code of ethics. !!! Read the fine print. Get information about the tour package and tour operator in writing. Read the information carefully and ask your travel agent to explain all the details. ASTA also offers the following suggestions when evaluating any travel offer to help avoid being a victim of a travel scam: !!! Retain a healthy dose of skepticism. Be extremely skeptical about unsolicited e-mail, postcard and phone solicitations saying you’ve been selected to receive a fabulous vacation or anything free. Be especially wary of firms requiring you to wait at least 60 days to take your trip. !!! Do your homework. Some offers might sound great on the surface, but be sure to read the fine print. Certain offers impose so many requirements and restrictions, such as black-out dates and companion fees, that you will either never have the chance to take the trip or you will end up paying more than had you made the arrangements on your own or used an ASTA travel agent. !!! Run a “background check.”You should vet the companies from which you purchase travel services. You can do this by checking to see if they are members of ASTA or ACTA or by searching for the company on the Better Business Bureau’s web site. !!! Keep private information private. Never give out your credit card number unless you initiate the transaction and you are confident about the company with which you are doing business. !!! Get the facts. You should receive complete details in writing about any trip prior to payment. These details should include the total price; cancellation and change penalties, if any; and specific information about all components of the package. !! Follow up. Once you have the complete details of your trip, contact the hotel and transportation companies on your own to make certain the reservations have been made. !!! Know when to fold’em. Know when to walk away. High-pressure sales presentations that don’t allow you time to evaluate the offer, or which require that you disclose your income are red flags to be heeded. (