Free-Cruise Scams

February 29, 2012 4:25:40 AM PST
When the bitter cold and snow eventually arrive our thoughts will turn to escaping to a tropical climate.

Winter and spring are prime cruising months, however the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and northern Illinois (BBB) advises consumers to read all of the fine print before signing up for a special cruise deal and be cautious of unsolicited mail with offers of free or discounted cruises.

"Many times, scammers will send e-mails, postcards, and other mailings trying to get you to call them in order to claim your 'free cruise,'" said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business bureau serving Chicago and northern Illinois. "Don't be fooled by professional looking websites. It's important to gather as much information as you can about the business, and ask a lot of questions before signing any agreements."

If booking a cruise getaway is in your plans there are a number of things the Better Business Bureau recommends you do:

Always check the business first. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Before giving a business any personal information, check out their BBB Business Review at

Don't be a victim. Oftentimes, vacation scammers will use high-pressure sales tactics and make you feel coerced into buying a limited-time deal on the spot. A reputable business or travel agent will provide information that you request, and give you time to decide before booking a vacation.

Pay with a credit card. For your best protection against a dishonest seller of travel programs, always pay for your cruise fare -- both the initial deposit and the final payment -- with a major credit card. If problems arise, you may be able to dispute the charges with your credit card company. It's important to note that this protection may not apply to those using debit or check cards; it's important to confirm policies with your issuing bank before making a charge.

Ensure your money is in the right hands. After you've made a payment, review your credit card or bank statement and make sure that any applicable charges originate directly with the cruise line, not with the travel agency. That way, you'll know that the cruise line has definitely received your money. If you must pay by check or money order, it should be made payable to the cruise line -- not to the agency or to an individual.

Get proper confirmation of your booking. Insist on getting the actual cruise line's confirmation numbers, not just a confirmation number from your agency. Not only will you then know that your information and money is in the right hands, but you'll also be able to pre-reserve shore excursions, restaurant reservations and spa appointments (where available) on the cruise line's website.

Ask questions. Before signing on the dotted line make sure all of the details have been clearly outlined and the pricing has been thoroughly explained. Double check whether for hidden cancellation fees, port charges, or insurance processing fees that haven't been covered.

Consider investing in travel insurance. Travel insurance can provide protection in the event of an accident, an illness, lost luggage, or a canceled or interrupted trip, among other things. Follow the same steps outlined here when buying travel insurance. For more information on consumer and travel tips, visit