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Friday, May 09 2014 02:30 PM

ACTION LINE: Heed these tips before booking a summer vacation

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    By Contributed photo

    Blair Looney, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Central California.

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BY BLAIR LOONEY Contributing columnist

Editor's note: Action Line is a weekly column from the Better Business Bureau answering consumers' questions and concerns about money and business issues.

Dear Action Line: My family and I plan to travel over the summer months. We are looking to book our hotel and flight. I'm concerned about making sure that we can travel safely and I also want to make sure I get quality at an affordable price. I heard of the travel websites but am unsure if they are credible and ethical.

What can we do to protect ourselves from some of the horror stories you hear about people that take a chance on some of the travel offers you see online? Do you have any advice you can offer?

Dear reader: Travel websites are a great way to purchase your flight ticket and hotel stay. They are fast and easy and convenient.

Major travel sites can be a great way to find transportation, lodging and other resources for your vacation. In many cases, travel sites can save you time and money when you're traveling to an unfamiliar destination.

Many sites require that you pay in advance for the best deals, with limited opportunity for cancellation, rescheduling or refunds. Make sure you understand the terms of any deal before you hand over a check or your credit card number.

If you're traveling by air, be aware of policies on baggage and seating. Many airlines charge for bags that can't be stowed in overhead bins or under seats, some even charge for the overhead bin space now. Some charge a premium for an aisle or window seat or for seating in an emergency exit row. Other potential charges include meals, movies or wireless Internet access.

Make sure you carry confirmation numbers for your reservations and contact information for the travel site, hotel or transportation companies you are using. You may need the confirmation number when you check in or if you need to change your plans. Many itineraries can now be sent directly to your smart phone.

More BBB tips for safe, worry-free travel include:

* Plan ahead. Many vacation destinations book up quickly, and the cost of reservations may go up the longer you wait to make reservations. Summertime is prime time travel for families.

* Understand providers' policies. Travel websites and individual providers like hotels, transportation companies or tours may have differing policies for refunds or cancellations. Some may cancel your reservation if you arrive too late or fail to confirm your reservation.

* Check out providers before you book your travel. BBB Business Reviews can give you information on companies' complaint records, their time in business and how they respond to consumer complaints. Friends or other review sites may provide you with feedback from other travelers on things like the quality of rooms or food. Beware of too many positive reviews; the provider may select only the best comments for its own site.

* Consider paying by credit card. Many credit card companies provide protection on items charged to the card, or they allow you to contest a charge if the provider fails to deliver promised services.

* Verify providers. When booking lodging through a third-party site, check with the hotel directly to make sure it exists and that the travel site is authorized to book with them. Ask them to verify that the confirmation number you got from the travel site is valid. This precaution is especially important when booking through ads on classified sites or unfamiliar websites.

* Review statements. Make sure the amounts charged to your credit card jive with the amounts shown on the travel site or your confirmation pages. In some cases, there may be legitimate charges such as taxes or booking fees, but they should be disclosed before your credit card is charged.

* Consider 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. However, in many cases the limits on the insurance may not compensate you for the full amount of your loss, and there could be delays.

For more information on travel or other consumer tips, visit www.cencal.bbb.org.

-- Blair Looney is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or info@cencal.bbb.org.

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