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August 7, 1999

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Suite Deal for Families

If you're a parent traveling with children, luxury travel means a separate hotel room for your kids. I mean, family togetherness is wonderful. But after a day of sightseeing, are there any parents who don't long for an uninterrupted night's sleep?

Two well-known hotel chains, Marriott and Embassy Suites, are offering deals for families. If you stay at least five nights at any of Marriott's extended stay hotels called TownPlace Suites, they'll let you stay in a two-bedroom suite for as low as $75 a night through September 6th. Marriott calls it their "Red, White & Zoo" summer package because in some cities, you also get free family passes to the local zoo.

Embassy Suites is offering two-room suites that start at $69 per night. This deal runs a month longer than Marriott's, ending October 3. There are more perks for the kids, too, including such things as soft drinks and pizzas, tickets to local sporting events or big-name amusement parks such as Seaworld or Six Flags. Remember, prices will vary by location, so check before you book.

The kids in the other room for less--that's my Deal of the Week!

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Operation Trip Trap
Have you ever been offered a vacation deal that seemed too good to be true? Well, it probably was. And this week the Federal Trade Commission announced it's cracking down on travel fraud through a program called "Operation Trip Trap." The FTC charged 25 companies with misleading consumers about vacation packages, and it launched a consumer education campaign that targets college students and retirees, the two groups most often victimized by travel scams. The FTC's Randy Satterfield says MOST companies that book tour packages are on the up and up -- just make sure you ask lots of questions.

Satterfield: "Few legitimate businesses can afford to give away products and services of real value, so when you see that offer for a 'free vacation' we advise people to be a little bit skeptical. And don't be pressured into buying. If somebody is offering a fabulous price that has to be purchased today by cash or by check, that's generally a tip-off to a rip-off."

If consumers suspect they have been scammed they can contact the Federal Trade Commission in one of three ways:

  1. 877-FTC-HELP (382-4357)

  2. Use the complaint form on-line: www.ftc.gov (There is a button at the bottom of the screen that says "Complain.") Or click on "Consumer Protection" and check out the "Telemarketing." category for scam info.

  3. Federal Trade Commission
    Consumer Response Center
    600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
    Washington D.C. 20580

Other resources:

  • Call American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) Consumer Affairs Department: 703-739-8739

  • Call local Better Business Bureau or state Attorney General's office where company is located to see if any complaints have been filed.

  • If a trip involces a charter flight, call Department of Transportation's Public Charter Licensing Divison 202-366-2396 to make sure operator has publicly filed to operate charter flights.

  • Read fine print and have someone else (even just a close friend) read it to make sure you understand the materials.

  • Pay with credit card so you can dispute charges through Fair Credit Act if there's a problem.

  • Don't believe any telemarketer who pressures you to send money overnight.

  • Don't believe things that seem too good to be true.

Internet Airfare Specials
After Northwest announced a sale of up to 25 percent off fall fares on Monday, the other big airlines took the hint as usual and lowered their prices too. The twist was that Delta offered an additional 10 percent discount to those who booked on its Web site. So the next day, Continental, Northwest, and USAirways announced their own Internet sales. On Thursday, the American Society of Travel Agents complained to the Department of Transportation that Internet airfare specials are elitist and discriminate against those who don't have computers.

Economy Plus Class
Sick of being squished in coach class? Well, United has announced it will create an "economy plus" section. The airline plans to reconfigure some of its planes, giving passengers in the first few rows an extra five inches of legroom. The service will be offered to elite, frequent fliers and passengers who pay full coach fares. If the new service is successful, you can bet the competition will follow close behind.

Dusted on Corfu
And finally, talk about an eco-vacation gone wrong. A group of health-conscious, vegetarian travelers were enjoying an al fresco organic breakfast on their balconies on the Greek island of Corfu last week, when a plane swooped down and doused them with insecticide. Two of the tourists have filed a lawsuit, charging that crop dusting is illegal in the European Union.

Travel Advisory
by Cheryl Glaser

Worldwide Travel Caution
The State Department issued another worldwide caution in anticipation of the August 7th anniversary of U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. It said recent terrorist threats have made no distinction between civilian and military targets, and urged Americans around the world to keep a low profile, vary travel routes, and be suspicious about mail from unfamiliar sources.

New Tourist Taxes
Get your wallets out for two new tourist taxes. Mexico's begun charging foreign travelers 150 pesos -- that's just over 15 dollars -- and you must show proof of payment before leaving the country. And visitors to the popular Spanish islands of Majorca, Menorca, and Ibiza will pay a not-yet-determined new tax that's supposed to fund environmental projects.

New Advice on Infants and Sunscreen
And if you're heading to the beach as you swelter through August, be sure to apply a dab of sunscreen to the infants in the group. Contrary to a prior warning against using it on children under six months, the American Association of Pediatrics announced last week that it's OK in small amounts, especially on the face and hands. But even better is the traditional solution of lightweight, long-sleeved shirts around reflective surfaces such as sand and water.


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