We all want to get the most value for our hard-earned cash, even more so when we’re planning to jet off to a new destination for some well-deserved rest. Booking flights, accommodation and transport, and reserving spending money for a bit of exploring, all add up to a small fortune. According to IOL Travel, South Africans spend an average of R7,814 per person on a budget holiday. That’s over R30 000 for a family of 4!
Because travelling is expensive, we often find ourselves scouring for “once-in-a-lifetime” bargain deals and holiday souvenirs along the way. Before and during our planned adventure, we might come across deals that seem too good to be true. And even though you want to hush the inner sceptic in you, even if just for a brief moment of wishful thinking, you know that it could end up costing you more than you bargained for. If you think something funky is up, rather follow your gut and invest a little more time to do research. Let’s be honest, there’s no worse feeling than falling victim to a scam when you were aiming towards having the time of your life instead. Read on for tips on how to avoid unfortunate circumstances that may leave you with holes in your pocket (or backpack) instead.
The most common travel scams to avoid:
- The “broken” taxi meter
You need to travel from the airport to your hotel. You hop into a cab and the ride goes smoothly until the driver asks you to pay a taxi fare of over 100 dollars, as indicated on his vehicle’s “broken” taxi meter…
The broken taxi meter scam is very common in Central America, especially Costa Rica. Watch out for it as it can leave you flat broke!
How to avoid It:
Negotiate rates before you get into the taxi. Make sure that the taxi meter is working before you drive-off to your desired location. If the taxi driver refuses to turn on the meter, or tells you it’s cheaper without the meter, get out and opt for another driver. Luckily not all cab drivers will be scammers.
2. The “fake flight confirmation”
The “confirm your flight” scam is one of the newest rip-offs doing its rounds in the tourism industry. Days or weeks before your flight takes off, an e-mail pops up in your inbox indicating that you have not yet confirmed your flight. You are given instructions to verify your flight details by following a link to another website. When you open the link, you’re asked to confirm your itinerary and passenger name record (PNR), or to sign in with your frequent flyer account details. Once a traveller does this, the scammers have everything they need to steal the poor victim’s frequent flyer miles or hijack the ticket entirely.
How to avoid it:
If you receive a “confirm your flight” e-mail, contact your airline to confirm if the e-mail is legit. Also, be sure to change the password of your frequent flyer account and make sure that the information is kept safe.
3. The “free bracelet (or rosemary)” scam
When a lovely lady walks over for a chat and places a “free” friendship bracelet on your wrist or hands you a sprig of Rosemary for good luck, it would be rude not to accept such a generous gift, right? Well, unfortunately, in this case generosity comes at a cost. The “generous” lady will demand money for her offerings and cause a scene if you refuse to repay her with coinage. This scam has tricked many travellers over the years, make sure that you’re not the next victim to fall for a costly “freebie” on your trip.
How to avoid It:
Don’t allow anyone to put anything on your wrist or in your hand and be extremely wary of accepting anything for free unless there is a good reason for it. Especially in very touristy areas. Ignore solicitations of this nature and just keep on walking.
4. The “group photo” offer
We all love to capture those special moments of our trips by taking pictures and recording videos. Sometimes we ask locals to take pics of us with our travel buddies in front of a famous landmark, a snapshot we might end up regretting. As the group gets ready to strike a pose positioning themselves to showcase their best sides and Colgate smiles, the “helpful” photographer makes a run for it and disappears into thin air with your expensive camera.
How to avoid it:
Look out for the red flags! If a stranger offers to take a photo without you asking, rather cling firmly to your camera. If you want a complete group photo, rather ask another tourist to take it for you. You will easily spot the difference between a local and a tourist, but if all else fails, rather invest in and use a selfie stick.
5. The “overbooked” or “closed” hotel
Again, this common travel scam involves taxi drivers. On your way to your hotel, the driver will tell you that this specific hotel is either closed or overbooked and then take you to a more expensive hotel where he receives a fat commission for a job well done.
How to avoid it:
Call your hotel in advance to confirm your room and check-in times. Ask if they offer a shuttle service and then schedule a pickup. If your taxi driver still tells you the hotel is closed/overbooked, insist that he takes you there anyway. Tell him that you already have a reservation (even if you don’t).
Keep your eyes and ears open for these travel scams. Always be cautious and think before you make the mistake of trusting a random stranger with your expensive goods or travel arrangements. Always make sure that your flights and accommodation are booked via a legit platform and if you smell a rat, walk the other way.