You may be able to save money by vacationing closer to home this year. Whether it’s rafting and hiking in our mountains or fun in the sun along our coast, North Carolina offers many great places to spend your vacation. In fact, the state we call home is a year-round top tourist destination drawing millions of visitors who spend billions of dollars in North Carolina.
Whatever your vacation destination, keep the following tips in mind when you make summer travel plans.
Planning on renting a place in the mountains or at the beach? North Carolina’s Vacation Rental Act protects consumers who rent a vacation property for fewer than 90 days. Under the law, the landlord must give you a written rental agreement that spells out:
• Your rights and obligations as a tenant, including what you’ll pay
• The rights and obligations of the landlord and/or real estate brokers
• The amount of security deposit required and how the deposit will be held
• Any additional fees required to rent the property
Once you sign a vacation rental agreement, you and the landlord agree to abide by its terms. Landlords are required by law to keep the property safe and habitable.
So what happens if your vacation gets cut short by the threat of a hurricane or forest fire? Your landlord may offer you insurance on your vacation rental, which would cover the cost of any nights you miss due to a mandatory evacuation. If you’re ordered to evacuate and you were not given a chance to purchase insurance, the landlord is required to refund your money for each night you can’t stay at the rental property. But if you’re offered rental insurance and don’t take it, then the owner isn’t required to refund your money in case of a mandatory evacuation.
If you rented the property through a real estate or property management company and have a complaint or question, contact the North Carolina Real Estate Commission at (919) 875-3700. If you’re thinking about renting a vacation home out of state, it’s a good idea to contact the Attorney General’s Office in that state to learn about your rights there as a consumer.
Travel Packages and Clubs
You’ve probably gotten a fax, phone call, or email offering an incredible price for what sounds like a dream vacation, or been offered a “free” vacation if you join a travel club. But these advertisements and offers often fail to tell you that you’ll have to pay added fees or take an unwanted timeshare tour. And in many cases, travelers arrive at their destination to discover that the accommodations aren’t quite what they were promised. You may also be hit with extra charges like a bed fee, meals fee, or even a fee for sheets and towels.
A vacation isn’t free if you have to pay for something to get it, and offers that seem too good to be true almost always are. Before you agree to a vacation package or travel club offer, study the agreement carefully. Instead of being swayed by promised discounts, look at the total cost you’ll have to pay. Don’t give in to high pressure sales tactics that push you to say yes on the spot. Check to see if the offer includes a refund policy in case you need to cancel. And if you end up buying a travel club membership at a hotel or any place other than the company’s office, remember that you have three days to cancel under North Carolina law.
A Few More Travel Tips
No matter how or where you book your vacation, consider paying with a credit card instead of cash to improve your odds of getting a refund if the company goes out of business.
Read all contracts carefully before signing. Make sure verbal promises are put in writing, and keep good records in case you have a problem later.
If your travel deal involves a third party such as an online travel agency who is supposed to issue you a coupon to cover lodging or air fare, verify that the participating company (hotel, cruise ship, or airline) is in fact a partner of the travel agency and will honor the coupon.
To check for complaints against a specific travel agent, travel package company or landlord or to file a complaint, you can always call my consumer protection office toll-free at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.
And if you take a vacation this summer, have a wonderful and safe time.
Attorney General Roy Cooper and his staff never take a break from helping consumers. We’re here to be of service when you need us, but through consumer education efforts like these columns we hope to help North Carolinians avoid problems from the start.