How to Protect Yourself: Vacation Certificates
Source: The Florida Attorney General's Office
A vacation certificate is an arrangement whereby you pay in advance for the use of travel accommodations or facilities at some later date, and no specific dates for traveling or use of the accommodations or facilities are designated. A typical vacation certificate will be offered by sending consumers post cards or letters telling them that they have been "chosen" or have been "selected to receive" a "fabulous vacation." You may see these offers in newspapers, or the sellers of travel certificates may contact you by telephone. The vacation may include travel and accommodations, or simply the accommodations, making you responsible for paying to travel to your vacation spot.
You should be especially careful when buying this type of service, since you will be paying today for a service which you might not want to use for a few months or even longer. You will be throwing your money away if you buy from a company that will be out of business by the time you want to take your trip. You will also be making the purchase of these services "sight unseen." Even if you are able to take your trip, the "bargain" price could end up being way too expensive for less than satisfactory accommodations, or accommodations which are non-existent.
Be wary of any seller of travel who tells you that you must make up your mind about purchasing during the call. Before deciding on any vacation certificate arrangement, you should always call the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 1-800- 435-7352 to determine whether the company is registered, how long it has been in business, and whether there are any complaints against it. Additionally, The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have helpful information on its website at http://www.800helpfla.com/sot.html. Consumers can file a complaint online or have the form sent to them.
Be particularly wary if the seller of travel certificates is located out of state. Chapter 559, Florida Statutes, requires all sellers of travel operating within the state to be registered and to comply with stringent requirements. For example, all advertising by registered sellers must include the seller's registration number.
"Valuable" coupons for restaurants or local attractions, offered to induce you to buy the vacation certificate, may be non-existent, or may not be bargains at all due to the limited conditions under which you may redeem these bonus items.
Do not give your credit card number to anyone over the telephone unless you initiated the call and are sure that the company's offer is legitimate. It is never a good idea to give your checking account number during a telephone sale. And if the seller advises you that he will send a runner to your house to pick up your check, be cautious about buying, it could mean that the company wants to cash your check before you change your mind, or even that the company wants to avoid laws regulating anything sent through the mails.
Be wary of any seller of travel offering you free accommodations if you purchase airfare through the seller. You may pay more than if you arrange the trip on your own through a travel agent.
If you decide you want to buy the certificate, the seller is required to send you a contract telling you all the terms and conditions of the vacation certificate, including your total financial obligation, all eligibility requirements, and instructions on how reservations are to be made.
You have a right to cancel your purchase and receive a refund within 30 days of the date of purchase or receipt of the vacation certificate, whichever occurs later. You may also have the right to cancel at anytime if the accommodations or facilities are not available pursuant to a request for use provided in the contract if certain statutory terms and conditions are met. You must advise the seller in writing of your wish to cancel, and include the certificate. The seller has 30 days from the time of receipt of your notice of cancellation to send you a full refund.
If you decide to keep the certificate and take the trip, don't leave home without confirming all your hotel accommodations personally.
Here are some links that may prove helpful: