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When the weather outside is frightful, many people have visions of sunshine and crystal clear water in mind. Maybe you’ve been browsing travel websites for months, in search of the perfect destination. Or you may be tempted to check out a travel special from an email or mailer; however, finding the right accommodations, transportation and other vendors are key.

There’s nothing as disappointing as getting to your destination, only to find that your hotel or vacation rental isn’t as advertised or that it doesn’t exist at all.

Before you click “reserve” on a travel website, make sure you’ve checked out vendors. BBB Business Profiles are available on thousands of hotels, resorts and travel companies. Profiles include a rating from A+ to F, a listing of any complaints and how they were resolved as well as contact information for the business. Go to bbb.org or call 573-886-8965 to find BBB Business Profiles.

Browse the hotel’s own website for detailed information, and call the hotel to confirm the room exists before making a reservation through another site.

If you get an unsolicited call, text or email about a “free” trip or vacation, be skeptical. In some cases, the vendor charges fees that could cost you more than the trip would cost otherwise. In other cases, you may have to sit through a high-pressure sales presentation for a time share, travel club or other promotion. Travel clubs often charge high fees that could offset any savings, and memberships may be difficult to cancel.

Be especially wary if a prize company asked for your credit card to “verify” your identity or your prize. A legitimate company won’t ask you to pay for a prize, and divulging your personal identifiers or financial information could expose you to identity theft or fraud.

BBB’s tips for travelers include:

• Read customer reviews carefully. Beware of reviews that are too positive or too negative or that use vague information that could apply to any company. BBB customer reviews are checked to make sure the reviewer actually is a customer of the company being reviewed.

• Read and understand cancellation and refund policies. Many resorts will keep your deposit or one night’s stay if you don’t cancel by a certain date. Others may be willing to apply your deposit toward a future trip or a different room.

• Some hotels and resorts charge extra fees for services like fitness centers or Internet access, and many of these are mandatory, meaning that you pay them whether or not you use them. Read any fine print or call the hotel and ask for the total price before you book a room.

• Use a credit card to pay for your vacation, and make sure a website is secure by looking for “https” at the beginning of the URL in your browser’s address bar on the reservation page. You may be able to dispute charges with your credit card issuer if there’s a mistake or fraud.

Michelle Gleba is the Mid-Missouri regional director for Better Business Bureau.

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