By Autumn Gray
Summer vacation has come, and people are scrambling to go. As they plan the getaways they’ve been dreaming of for the last year, many are seeking deals that were common in 2020. When Covid-19 brought travel to a standstill, airlines and hotels reduced fares to ridiculous lows to attract anyone who would venture out. But the days of a $40 round-trip ticket to Hawaii are over. Travelers also shouldn’t expect a trip to be hiccup-free. Prices are up; uncertainty abounds; and most vacations this summer will require a heightened degree of due diligence to protect both yourself and your bank account.
“There’s tremendous pent-up demand, but you’re still limited in places you can go,” said Alfred Volden, owner of All World Travel in Albuquerque. “People need to be aware of (Covid-19) requirements of their destination.”
As of deadline for this story, some international destinations and Hawaii were necessitating that travelers present evidence of a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of the flight. A few countries were even insisting tourists buy travel insurance that includes medical coverage in case they contract the coronavirus while on foreign land. Tourists should also be prepared to have to take a Covid-19 test before returning to continental U.S. soil.
“God forbid you test positive, because you’re stuck there for the necessary time period until you’ve been symptom free for a certain period or until you re-test negative if you got a false positive the first time,” Volden said.
Even though travel has opened up quite a bit and is likely to continue to do so, people need to be prepared to adjust plans. “We have pandemic waivers (at our agency) because what I’m telling you today may change in 72 hours,” Volden said.
Nothing this year is a given, not even the ability to rent a car for those traveling within the States. National rental car companies sold off their fleets in 2020 in response to the plunge in demand, and they haven’t rebuilt them. Travelers who anticipate needing a vehicle at their destination should reserve one as soon as possible and expect to pay more than normal.
Volden said one of his clients paid $3,000 for use of a car for a week because he waited until the last minute. “And even if you reserve one, there’s no guarantee one will be there when you arrive,” Volden said.
In fact, if you see a car rental rate that seems cheap, it’s probably not real. Rental car scams are among a host of fraudulent practices revving up for summer travel. The combination of an industry in flux and a public itching to move about has created a ripe environment for thieves. Scammers see the eagerness and the impatience, and they’re capitalizing on it, using fake websites and promoting offers that are too good to be true.
The Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker as of May was receiving reports of con artists creating fake airline ticket booking sites and phony customer service numbers, and impersonating rental car company representatives. The organization cautioned that anyone buying airline tickets or renting a car should be sure to double check the URL or phone number before providing credit card information.
Here’s how one scam works, according to the BBB: While doing an online search for cheap flights, you come across what seems like a great deal with a major airline. You book the flight—either through the website or by calling a customer support number—and receive a confirmation message. However, when you look more closely at the email, you notice that you never actually received your ticket. Alternatively, you book a flight on a travel website and pay with your credit card like normal. But shortly after making the payment, you receive a call from the company saying that there’s been a sudden price increase or an extra charge to finalize your booking. No legitimate company would do this.
“If it’s too good of a deal, be weary of it,” said investigations and dispute resolution coordinator Jennifer Hawkins of the BBB office serving Albuquerque. “If the business is asking anything out of the ordinary that you wouldn’t normally do with a transaction, don’t do it.”
Between the excitement of booking a trip and the rate at which bookings are filling up, people feel a sense of urgency to act. But the No. 1 piece of advice from consumer watchdogs is to avoid making hasty decisions, and take the time to do your homework.
“Don’t be rushed into a decision. Stop, take a minute. You don’t need to click right then,” said Jennifer Saavedra, director of the New Mexico Attorney General’s Advocacy and Intervention Division.
That advice goes for any kind of online purchase, she said. Also, never wire money, and don’t use prepaid gift cards.
While neither the local AG’s office nor the Albuquerque BBB have received travel scam complaints so far this year, Saavedra anticipates them as vacation season gears up.
It is anticipated that by June, vaccinated U.S. travelers will be able to bypass the more than year-long ban on travel to Europe.
As of April, the Albuquerque International Sunport had an average of 7,389 passengers moving through. That’s about 49 percent below April 2019 but a significant increase from a year ago. In April 2020, the Sunport averaged just 654 passengers per day.
Historically, July has been the peak summer travel month for Americans.