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Travel and You

2 Unwise Cases of Flights of Fancy

August 30, 1987|TONI TAYLOR | Taylor, an authority on the travel industry, lives in Los Angeles.

The cavalier approach that some people take to buying travel never ceases to amaze me. The public's capacity to voluntarily put itself at financial risk is a source of constant wonderment.

A couple of recent incidents involved acquaintances of mine. Each of these people, as you will see, took an unnecessary chance, shelling out hundreds of dollars for travel arrangements while not knowing what they were getting for their money.

Case No. 1: I met a woman in a supermarket whom I know on a casual basis and who, I now realize, knows what I do for a living.

"Tell me," she said, "do you know anything about so-and-so- travel service downtown? Are they reliable? Can I trust them?"

I had to admit that I'd never had any dealings with the company and simply couldn't offer any insights. That's not so surprising when you consider that there are several thousand travel agencies in Southern California.

A Great Deal

I asked why she wanted to know.

"Well," she said, "they're offering a great deal on a flight to London, a real good price. I'm just wondering if I can trust them to deliver as promised."

I suggested that she do some checking. And I gave her some pointers that I thought might help her make up her mind.

Is the agency a member of the big two trade associations--the American Society of Travel Agents or the Assn. of Retail Travel Agents?

How long has it been in business? Is its owner or are any members of the staff certified travel counselors, which means they've been through a legitimate training program?

Is it willing, and able, to identify the airline participating in the offer? Is the departure date firm?

"Ask those questions and any others that occur to you before you buy," I advised.

"Oh," she said, rather sheepishly, "I've already paid them more than $1,200 for two tickets. Maybe I shouldn't have, huh?"

I don't know if that agency is honest. I have no idea if she will get the air transportation she contracted for.

Considers Herself Lucky

Case No. 2: Another supermarket, another woman. This one I know much better.

"Boy am I lucky," she gushed. "I've got a coupon that will get me a first-class round-trip air ticket to anywhere in the Orient for only $300."

I allowed as how it seemed like a good arrangement. But I didn't believe it. I had to know more, so I asked her a few questions.

It turns out that she paid $200 to her sister's husband for a piece of paper. The writing was in the form of a message to the effect that the voucher could be redeemed for first-class round-trip air transportation to just about anywhere in the world for $300.

The wording implied that the document had the backing of all the airlines and was part of the standard operating procedure for air ticket brokers, the people who deal in frequent flier reward coupons.

Take it to any of them, the seller assured her, and they would redeem it since they were authorized to do so by the airlines.

I hated to disillusion her, but I was forced to tell her that she had truly been had, beyond any shadow of a doubt. By an in-law, yet.

"It's worthless," I advised. "Save yourself the embarrassment; don't even bother to take it to a ticket broker. He'll laugh at you.

"Next time you have dinner with your family, spill soup in your brother-in-law's lap," I suggested. "Or, better still, just ask him for your money back."

The woman had fallen for one of the least professional-looking fakes that I've ever seen. She genuinely believed that this printed, silver-bordered sheet was her passport to discount air transportation.

Normally Cautious

If it had been a complete stranger making an outright attempt to rip her off, she would probably have fallen for it just as she did this time. And that is very much out of character for this normally cautious, nobody's-fool professional woman.

Unfortunately, she is not by any means alone.

Most people wouldn't hand over $500 as a "deposit" on a car promised "for delivery tomorrow" by a stranger in a bar. If you needed a major appliance you probably wouldn't shell out cash to a cabdriver just because he said he had a cousin who had a friend who worked for the president of Sears and who could get it for you at a discount.

Yet for reasons that escape me, when it comes to travel, people fall all over themselves to get in line to part with money on the strength of stories just like the aforementioned.

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