The Dish on Free Trip Scams

National Geographic Traveler editor at large Christopher Elliott is the magazine’s consumer advocate and ombudsman. Over the past 15 years he has helped countless readers fix their trips.

Here’s his latest advice:

Reader Question: I received an award notification saying I won a seven-night cruise. Lucky me, right? 

My Answer: Say it with me: There’s no such thing as a “free lunch.”

Doesn’t exist. And as far as travel scams go, this one’s an old favorite. Why? Because otherwise intelligent travelers like you keep falling for it. When you call the number, you’ll be invited to a high-pressure sales presentation for a time-share or travel club.

Even if you don’t fall for the pitch, redeeming the “free” cruise will be tricky, because the company will add fees and restrictions to the point where you’ll pay more for the “free” vacation than if you’d just booked it through your favorite travel agent.

These scams can and do happen anywhere, but I see more than a fair share coming out of Florida.

Often, scammers can outrun the law by simply changing their company names on a regular basis and reincorporating.

Do yourself a favor and throw that award notification in the trash. That’s where it belongs.

Christopher Elliott is Traveler magazine’s consumer advocate and pens the “Problem Solved” column for the magazine (this exchange appeared in the October 2014 issue). Follow Christopher’s story on Twitter @elliottdotorg.

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