Getting burned: Spring break packages deceive students

by Amanda Munoz, U-wire

(U-WIRE) MEDFORD, Mass. – For students who went to tropicallocations for spring break, there could be worse things than a badsunburn: getting ripped off.

Starting early on in the school year, posters lure students withall-inclusive spring break packages to destinations like Cancun andAcapulco. These seemingly blissful and convenient packages are acollege student’s dream — planning a trip without having to domuch research. As many students can attest, however, these dealsoften aren’t exactly what they say they are.

This month, the State Public Interest Research Groups’ HigherEducation Project released a report, “Spring Broke: How to Avoid aSpring Break Ripoff,” that examined the deceptive advertisingpractices of travel companies which target college students.According to the report, which surveyed travel company postersacross the country, hidden fees for each trip (usually onlymentioned in fine print) totaled on average up to $367 — resultingin a trip price 62 percent higher than advertised.

After a disappointing spring break package to the Bahamas hersophomore year, senior Ani Altoonian opted to use a travel agencyto book her spring break to the Dominican Republic this year.

“We just ended up spending a lot more money [last year] than wehad anticipated once we got there,” she said about her sophomorespring break.

Altoonian and her friends had found out about SuncoastVacations’ Bahamas package from posters on campus. The trippromised fun in the sun and free drinks, but Altoonian and friendshad to wait in the airport for their charter flight and the freedrinks were limited.

“You thought it was [all-inclusive], but it wasn’t…they saidsomething like 20 hours of free drinks or something… [but] itwould end up being that the bar that had the free drinks was acrossthe island, you had to take a cab to get there, and once you gotthere, there was 1000 people there and you get one drink beforethey ran out.”

For the same reasons, senior Mike Stevenson booked his vacationto Jamaica with a travel agent and not a travel company. “It wasall-inclusive,” Stevenson said about his spring break package. “Ifwe had wanted to stay on the resort the whole time, we wouldn’thave had to spend any extra money at all.”

Not all spring break deals are a nightmare, however. SophomoreSarah Feldberg enjoyed her sunny spring break, which she bookedwith Student Travel Agency (STA) that uses Student Travel Services(STS) once they arrived in Jamaica. Her $807 package included theflight, airport shuttle, and hotel with additional food and drinkoptions. Her group opted for the $160 drink package, which Feldbergsays was worth the extra money.

“It was really nice not having to carry lots of cash or paycover charges,” Feldberg said. “Looking back it probably would havebeen worth it to do the food too.”

For students who don’t plan on drinking heavily every night oftheir week-long trip, however, such drink packages may not be worththe cost. “It was a good deal as long as you are crazy enough todrink that much,” sophomore Jessica Brauser, who also went onFeldberg’s trip, added.

Many services, such as STS, offer additional deals once studentshave arrived at their spring break destination. In Jamaica, forexample, excursions such as climbing waterfalls and jumping offcliffs or the “booze cruise” are offered and range in price fromand extra $25 to $65 extra dollars. Once on vacation, students areoften eager to see and to do as much as possible, giving theseservices the chance to reel in even more money.

According to sophomore Gabby Lubart, who also went to Jamaica,it may have been cheaper to plan the excursion themselves. “Weprobably could have saved some money by renting our own bus,”Lubart said. She added, however, that the safety of having a guidedtrip and chaperones made it worth the extra cost.

According to the report, “In addition to deceptive pricing,companies also require travelers to give up many of their rights.Travel companies reserve the right to change travel andaccommodation plans at their discretion. In addition, companiesrequire travelers to sign contracts in which they must waive orlimit their legal rights to file disputes with the travelcompany.”