Stretching your Travel Dollar

Tips and links from Reid Bramblett and Jason Cochran's presentation on "Deals & Scams" at the 2013 New York Times Travel Show

Below are the main bullet points (with a bit of explanation) from each section of our talk—both the deals and the scams.

The links that appeared on the screen during the talk are all here—but if you click on the bullet point itself (or the "more" button) you can read a page with much, much more in-depth information about each topic complete with even more links and resources (usually, there was only room for the top two or three links on the slides).

As a bonus, you'll also get the sections we had hoped to talk about but had to skip so we could fit it into the time allotted. Enjoy!


Reid Bramblett's section. (

Be flexible
Never pay retail
Time your trip (bonus section)

When should you book big ticket travel items? Full Story

  • Airfare: 8–10 weeks ahead
  • Lodgings: 1–3 days
    • Prices really won't vary too much, so it's really a matter of leaving your itinerary open. Three exceptions to the wait-to-book rule:
      • Book first and last nights' lodging ahead of time (to avoid stress on those hectic travel days)
      • Book ahead for any truly special lodging on which you have your heart set.
      • If there's a festival, trade fair, or major holiday in town, go ahead and book a hotel in advance.
  • Cars: 1–2 weeks (prices don't really change much—or at least not so much or so predictably that you should bother factoring it in)
  • Tours: 2–6 months (smaller tours/limited departures will fill up early; most tour companies open up bookings 11 months in advance)
  • Major activities: 2–3 months (we're talking that week rafting the Grand Canyon, not the 2-hour Literary Pub Crawl through Dublin)
  • Day activities: 3–10 days (here's your pub crawl, or walking tour, or escorted daytrip to Pompeii, or skip-the-line museum tickets)
Look beyond the obvious
Sightsee, eat, and sleep for free (bonus section)


Jason Cochran's section. (

Refuse Phacebook phishing schemes

Identity theft has been the #1 consumer complaint for 12 years.

  • "Southwest" Facebook scam (just one example)—Don't click on a too-good-to-be-true "ad" on FB (or anywhere else), even if it really, really looks legit and uses the purported company's logo and everything. One clue you are clicking on a phishing scam "ad": No reputable business will ask you for personal details after you "like" its page but before you claim your "prize."
    • Tweet the vendor to ask—E-mail, phone, or letters rarely get responses; companies (currently) follow Twitter obsessively, so Tweet with their Twitter @name to question the legitimacy of a fishy-sounding deal. You will likely get a response within minutes.
    • Is it safe to "like" a page?—Funny videos and catchy pics will often garner a "like"—but that can often open you up to having your FB personal details harvested. In Facebook, check the "Your Apps" section of the "App Center" setting to choose which details you want to share by "making public" (hint as few as possible).
    • Check out ongoing scams:,,,
Beware fake listings

Fake listings of rentals and home swaps

  • Don’t send un-trackable deposits—No cash, wire transfers, Western Union, or PayPal
  • Use credit cards
  • Don’t be a stranger—Contact the people with which you will swap or rent from. Discuss details. Offer to give each other video Skype virtual tours of your respective properties. Ask for local advice. Get to be friends before you exchange.
  • Ask for references—And offer to provide your own.
  • Don’t worry about your stuff—They have access to your family silver, too. Reputable services will weed out any bad apples, so...
  • Use a service with referees—Don't just go to Craigslist. Use a home-swapping service that verifies all clients ahead of time.
  • Make sure the swapping service is licensed
Ignore bogus flight confirmations
  • Don’t click on that link!
  • Type in the URL yourself —Always go to a site directly, not by clicking a "your acount needs action" link sent via e-mail, and find out if the e-mail sent to you was legitimate.
  • Never send personal details via email
  • Disable auto-loading attachments for addresses not in your own contacts list—They can sometimes hide malware or viruses.
  • Hover-check—Mouse over any link to see where it actually leads. If anything comes after the ".com" other than a forward slash "/" you will not be going to the site you think you are. It should be "", never "" (or whatever). If that is the case, it means the scammers have merely named one of their servers "" so that you see that initial part of the link and assume the rest is real. Here is a (bogus, lightly re-scrambled) example of a link that at first blush appears to be Facebook but, in fact, has no affiliation with that company:
Don't book with fly-by-night operators
  • They can leave you in the lurch if something goes wrong.
  • Look for USTOA Traveler’s Assistance seal—This means a company is licensed and bonded up to $1 million (which means you will be protected even if the operator goes out of business). A few legit companies (such as Sunny Land Tours) do use other bonding agencies, which is also fine, but do due diligence by Googling the company for problems and checking
Avoid the personal details grab
  • Your credit card details can easily be snagged en route to a vendor
  • Never send credit card numbers by email—If you absolutely have to, break up the number and send it over the course of several e-mails.
  • Always telephone or, if submitting credit card or personal details on a website, only to use the https:// of a known site—Make sure there is an "s" after the "p" in http; that indicates you are using a secure server)
Find the fees in naked quotes
  • Never trust the first price you see—Expecially with airfares and tours, fees can be added in all along the way (even after you buy). They try to hook you with a great-seeming lead price, then pad in "fees" later, from "fuel surcharges" that often run hundreds of dollars right down to $10 to reserve a specific seat on the plane.
  • A new federal law requires them to disclose all fees up front—But it doesn't always work.
  • Even the big names violate the rules—Qantas, Tripadvisor, Jetblue, Finnair, and Spirit have all been fined for violations.
  • Find violators:
  • Pending complaints:
    • Search by docket DOT-OST-2012-0002
  • The last page before you click “Buy” has the true amount
Get off the hook in search bait and switch
  • Search a second time, get a higher price?—They say they don't do this, that it's just dynamic pricing that is always changing, but there is evidence that they do.
  • Use a new browser (Explorer, Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, etc.) with each search
  • Clear cookies and your cache between searches
  • Try searching both under your frequent flier number and anonymously (sometimes FF#s will actually result in higher fares due to obscure code uses)
Beware hard-to-get event tickets
  • Know the vendor
  • Ask if it has tickets in hand
Don’t fall for the Standby booby prize
  • Bumped from an overbooked flight? Don't let them foist you off with a standby seat. High load factors on airlines these days means there are fewer empty seats. You could be waiting a very long time for that standby flight.
  • Insist on a credit (or cash!) instead
Don’t send out an SM burglar alert
  • Do NOT share your trip as you go. It lets bad guys know you are not at home.
  • No Facebook. No Foursquare. No Twitter. Share your trip pics once you get home.
Uncheck the add-on insurance

  • Scrutinize booking forms for pre-checked boxes. Many will try to trick you into paying for their trip insurance—which you may not want, and even if you do, do not buy it from the vendor itself (airline, tour company, cruise discounter—whomever is selling you the product).
  • Buy travel insurance from a third party— Why? Well, part of what you are insuring against is the vendor itelf (going out of business, not providing the product as advertized, etc.)
  • Make sure any insurance you buy is accredited by the U.S. Travel Insurance Association

Tours Under $995 G Adventures

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in Janaury 2013.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.