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Research travel deals carefully

The hot weather is here, and many of you are thinking, "vacation." Time to get away and go do something fun.

Before booking that vacation, here are some travel-smart tips. Sellers of travel who are in compliance with Florida regulations are eager to please their clients and assure them of a pleasant experience. They will arrange your trip on your terms. Unethical sellers of travel will try to arrange your trip on their terms, which often will mean problems down the road.

Vacation trips should be fun and hassle-free. Before contracting with a travel business, call the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services toll-free at 1-800-435-7352 to determine whether it is registered and if there are any complaints against it. All nonexempt sellers of travel are required to register each year. Some are also required to provide financial security for consumers through a bond, letter of credit or certificate of deposit, and to adhere to mandatory record-keeping procedures.

Look for the travel seller's registration certificate posted in its place of business. The registration number also must appear in all advertisements.

Know and understand the cancellation policy of the business, whether a cruise line, airline, hotel, etc., before making your purchase. Some may be nonrefundable or have penalties or additional fees for rescheduling.

Be skeptical of postcards or telephone calls announcing that you have been selected to receive a vacation. "Selected to receive" does not necessarily mean "free."

Never give credit card or checking account numbers over the telephone unless you initiated the call and you are certain of the credentials of the company.

Obtain all information and details in writing, and make sure the street location of the travel company is included.

Beware of high-pressure sales tactics and pitches that require immediate payment; do not make hasty decisions. Be especially wary if a company offers to have someone pick up your money.

Do not accept vague statements like "all major airlines" or "all major hotels." Get specifics and check the details yourself.

If accommodations are included, call the hotel and confirm the reservations yourself. Also ask the hotel personnel about their knowledge of and relationship with the travel company.

Be wary of dealing with sellers of travel who tell you certain dates are not available for the accommodations offered but can be arranged if you're willing to pay an additional charge to "upgrade."

Check with other travel agencies in your area and compare the offers.

Remember that vacation certificates can be canceled within 30 days from the date of purchase, or when accommodations or facilities are not available when requested for use as provided in the contract.

Sellers of travel can be small, local offices or large national and international franchises. Most of them are sincerely concerned with providing their clients with professional service and enjoyable experiences.

The few sellers of travel who cheat the public create problems for everyone, including travelers and law-abiding travel agencies. In many cases there is a limit to what the law can do to assure consumers they will get their money's worth in their dealings with travel agents.

The wise traveler will always check the background and reputation of a travel agency to keep from becoming a victim of fly-by-night or unethical sellers of travel.

_ Dottie Teuton is executive director of the Better Business Federation, 6460 W Gulf to Lake Highway, Crystal River. Call 795-3547 in Citrus County or 307-9222 in Marion County. The office may also be reached by e-mail at Or call the Florida Division of Consumer Services toll-free at 1-800-435-7352.