A good travel agent can help save you time and money while making vacation plans . The catch, however, is that the travel industry has its share of scams and fraudulent operators. In order to ensure the best golf vacation, consumers need to be careful when choosing an agent.
Golf travel in particular tends to be expensive and requires not only arranging for accommodations and transportation, but also tee times and other details (e.g., lessons, carts, etc.). A good travel agent can help reduce the costs by offering golf packages that include accommodation and tee time combinations that save money over these services being purchased separately, and can help golfers choose the right destination to suit their interests and those of their travel companions.
There is a growing field of specialty travel companies geared solely to the needs of golfers, although most narrow their focus to certain golf destinations. Given these companies' expertise, some golfers prefer dealing with golf travel agencies, although any good travel agent should be able to help you save time and money and reduce the chance of choosing accommodations or a destination that doesn't meet your expectations. However, if you're traveling with a non-golfer and you want help choosing a place for you and your non-golfing companion, you may want to consult a more general travel agent - or decide where to go and then seek out a travel agent to help you save money on tee times and accommodations.
While there may be some exceptions, most of the golf travel agencies and tour companies concentrate on golf, although many do offer "golf widow" rates for the non-golfer, which is a lower rate that excludes greens fees and other golf-related fees while still offering a discount for the golfer taking advantage of a golf package.
Whatever agent you choose, however, you'll need to do a little homework to be sure they are legitimate. Given the cost of the average golf vacation, it's worth making a few phone calls to avoid a shady operator. The following are some pointers on choosing a legitimate travel agent and protecting yourself from travel fraud.
A good travel agent will belong to one or more major travel organizations, such as the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) or the National Tour Association (NTA). Find out if the agent you want to use is a member, and then contact that organization to verify that they are a member in good standing and that no complaints have been filed against them by consumers. Tour operators offering pre-packaged tours that belong to the National Tour Association have passed a list of strict requirements, and consumers' deposits are protected under the NTA's Consumer Protection Plan, even in instances where the tour company goes bankrupt. More information can be found at https://ntaonline.com/mynta/member-search/
Membership in ASTA or NTA means that a company has been screened and found to be a legitimate, ethical, and professional travel organization. Aside from dues, the organizations have strict conduct standards and they check into the companies before allowing them to join. If there are complaints against their members, this will affect their standing with the organization. This at least sifts out the shysters, and attempts to sift out companies that operate in a shady manner.
By using companies that are members in good standing, you have the benefit of having a non-profit organization having investigate that company before accepting them into their organization. ASTA is perhaps the most widely recognized such organization, but the NTA has the advantage of the consumer protection plan. However, ASTA will help mediate a legitimate dispute with its member companies, so their involvement does not stop with mere seal of approval on a member. Therefore, both ASTA and the NTA are good to check with for information and recommendations, as well as to check out a chosen travel or tour company.
Other sources for recommendations of travel agents are the Institute of Certified Travel Agents (https://www.icta.com), and the U.S. Tour Operators Association (www.ustoa.com).
You may also want to check with your local Better Business Bureau (https://www.bbb.org/) and state or local consumer protection agency to find out if there have been any complaints filed against a travel company you are considering doing business with. It's important to note, though, that even if no complaints exist, these agencies depend mainly on consumers to contact them and file complaints. In other words, simply because there are no complaints does not mean they are fine; it just means no one has filed a complaint.
When contacting a potential travel company, pay close attention to the way they handle your questions and your travel arrangements. Ask for names and phone numbers of specific hotels/motels, golf courses and airlines included in the package, and then call to be sure they deal with the travel agent. Remember - if a deal you're offered sounds too good to be true, it just may be. There are bargains out there, but if it sounds impossibly inexpensive, this should raise a red flag immediately. As with most things in life, you generally get what you pay for.
One fairly common ploy is the enticement of people to go on "free" vacations. If it's a "sweepstakes" you didn't enter, there's a good chance it's a fraud with hidden costs or other potential dangers involved. Another common situation is to try out a new vacation place that's selling units or time shares. Beware of these, as well, as it usually involves a very high pressure sales pitch. Also, beware of any agent that claims you must act immediately or the deal will be gone. While prices do change seasonally and fluctuate, a legitimate company's deals will not disappear overnight.
NOTE: A deposit or even advance payment is usually required for travel. If possible, pay with a credit card. If there is a dispute later it will be easier to get some satisfaction by enlisting the help of your card issuer.
While vacations are meant for relaxing, and most travel agencies are legitimate and ethical, doing a little homework before you play pays off - not only in helping track down legitimate travel bargains, but avoiding travel scams and rip-offs.