BALTIMORE — We all look for deals on travel, but a "too good to be true" cruise offer left many in our area scrambling for refunds.
Norwegian Cruise Line has accused Hopkins Travel Services of committing credit card fraud by applying customer's payments to other reservations and sometimes using more than a dozen different cards to book reservations.
Sarah Kline, president of Time for Travel Ltd. in Davidsonville, Md., worries Hopkins' actions could leave a mark on her industry. In Maryland, there's no license or certification required to be a travel agent. The business has to be registered with the state, and online reviews and ratings can be telling, but Kline said there a few other things you should ask before trusting just anyone with your vacation money.
1. Compare prices
Hopkins sold seven-day trips with airfare for two for just $2,400. When you search on the cruise line's website that's less than the base fare with nothing else included.
"We usually do get some really good discounts but we do work on commission, so the percentage is fairly small," Kline said.
2. Only put down a deposit
Hopkins asked for payments in full for cruises that sailed in 2021. She also included airfare when flights aren't yet available for sale.
"Very unusual. There are some circumstances where there is prepaid, nonrefundable deals, but typically not that far out," said Kline.
3. Look for professional affiliations
Kline said there's been an explosion in hobbyist travel agents and to research someone's years in business and professional affiliations like the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) or Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) .
"So maybe look for a physical office, look for someone who's been doing this for a really long time through full-time business and not just a hobby," said Kline.
4. Ask about insurance
And when it comes to insurance, Kline always recommends customer's purchase a personal policy. "Your kid got sick, your job pulled your leave, all of those unforeseen life circumstances, even trip delay," she said.
In addition to checking that the agency is insured.
"So we carry Errors and Omissions Insurance because what if something happened to not only one of us but to the office itself or one of the cruise lines, airline, hotelier," said Kline.
Why use a travel agent?
A travel agent may not be right for everyone, and nowadays it's easier than ever to shop online, but you're buying peace of mind when working with a true professional.
"Somebody en route to Belize this morning had a mechanical so she's like, 'What do I do?' So, I rearranged her boat, her driver, changed her flight til tomorrow, sent her to a hotel for another night. She would've spent all day working on that and it cost her nothing," Kline said.
Looking ahead to the busy holiday travel season, Kline said there are still some pretty good deals out there, particularly, if you can travel on Christmas or the week after New Year's. And to give yourself plenty of time at the airport. Reserve a parking spot, Uber or Lyft, and try to get there three hours early.