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How to avoid vacation scams - abc27 WHTM

How to avoid vacation scams

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

Winter is here, and that has many daydreaming of escaping to a warmer climate. Before you book that trip, you'll want to make sure you're not the one being taken for a ride.

This is a big time of year for the travel industry, as people start planning vacations. Many will do that online, but there may be an even better way. Before the days of smart phones and laptops, people used travel agencies. And they're still around!

"We do all of your planning from start to finish, we do it all for free," said Shelly McConnell of Uniglobe Travel Management in Cumberland County.

In many cases, travel agents can help save money and time.

"With the experience that we have here at the agency we are able to break that down for you," said McConnell, "we can give you personal experiences from our agents who have traveled to many different places in the country and give you that personal touch that you don't get with an online tool."

But not all travel agencies are the same. You may be signing up for one and not even know it.

You've probably seen contests before where you can win a free car just by filling out your name and number and putting it in a box. What you may not realize is those contests are run by businesses like Sundance Vacations, and the forms have a lot of fine print that many people never see.

When you fill out the forms, you are basically giving them permission to call you. That's exactly what they did to Jessica McNaughton of Dauphin County -- many times. She didn't win a car, but she did win a free cruise. All she would have to do is sit through a sales pitch. She and her husband ended up buying 10 weeks of vacations for $4000.

That was more than three years ago, and her family hasn't used a vacation yet.

"There's just a lot of hidden fees," said McNaughton, "Sundance's selling point is they charge you a $99 booking fee for every vacation, so you can go on these ten vacations and it will cost you $99, that's not true."

Turns out there's a whole lot of restrictions. She couldn't take the trips when she wanted, and the places she wanted to visit were always unavailable.

"You're just wanting to go somewhere and taking what you can get is how I was looking at it," McConnell said, "I'll go anywhere. I'm paying for this, I just want to go somewhere and we haven't."

McNaughton isn't alone. Several others have similar stories. There's even a Facebook page devoted to it. "It's frustrating and it's disappointing to know that this happens to people," McNaughton said.

Sundance's own website acknowledges people think it's a scam. Although, the company insists that's not the case. McNaughton doesn't buy it.  

"Hindsight is 20/20," she said, "I wish we hadn't done it."

We tried to get in touch with Sundance directly for this story, but were told they wouldn't talk to the media. Sundance did offer to cancel McNaughton's contract but not refund any of her money

The Attorney General's office would not comment about specific complaints about Sundance and, so far, there has been no legal action taken against the company.

Here are more travel tips from Uniglobe Travel:
· Give contact information of where you will be once at your destination to a family member or friend back here at home in case of emergency.
· If you are gone for long periods of time, suspend your mail with USPS.
· Most airlines now offer 24 hour prior check-in. You can go to their website 24 hours prior to departure and "check-in," print your boarding passes and pay for your luggage.
· Pack a full day (or two)  of clothes (don't forget your bathing suit) in your carry-on. Just in case your luggage is lost.
· Make sure you remember your passport (if needed) and/or driver's license.
· Obtain your passport at least 6-8 weeks in advance to avoid having to pay for expedited services.
· There is not "a best day of the week to book your air arrangements," but if you travel on a Tuesday or Wednesday availability can be better. 
· Check out www.tsa.gov before you travel for any last minute questions you may have of which piece of luggage you should pack your things in. Carry-on vs checked luggage. 
· The 3-1-1 liquid carry-on guide lines - 3 oz bottles, 1 clear Ziploc bag, 1 per bag per carry-on.

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