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How to Strike Back at Companies With a Credit Card Purchase Dispute

David Bakke is a contributor for Money Crashers Personal Finance where he talks about smart money management and shopping tips.

Let’s say you just received a product or service from a vendor that you’re less than satisfied with. You attempt to return the purchase or get a refund on the service, but the vendor is unwilling to work with you. Are you out of options? Absolutely not. And the best weapon you may have in your arsenal is a credit card dispute or chargeback.

 All credit and debit cards offer dispute resolution as an option, and as long as you understand the rules and your claim is legit, most often you’re going to get a favorable ruling. The process can be complex, but if you’re talking about a major purchase such as an airline flight or a suite of home furniture, it’s almost always in your best interest to pursue it. If you’ve never been through a credit card dispute before, here’s an inside look as to how they work:
 
1. Call Customer Service
Your first step is to use your credit card wisely and avoid falling into the many pitfalls card ownership presents. Assuming you do that, there are many credit card perks and benefits you can take advantage of.  If you have a valid dispute to make, call your card company’s customer service department immediately. Find out exactly what the process is and what paperwork you’re going need. Generally, you’re going to be assigned a specific agent to handle your claim, so be sure to write down all contact information along with instructions on how to proceed.
 
2. Assemble Your Documents
Next, you want bullet-proof documentation of the company’s misstep. Did they not provide the exact product you purchased? Did it arrive damaged? Did you never receive it at all? Did it not work as advertised, or was the service not adequately provided? No matter the exact details of your situation, it’s essential that you have all documentation and photographs at your disposal to back up any claims you’re making.
 
3. Keep Track of the Process
The process can be lengthy, so stay in constant contact with the representative handling your case. You don’t want to be rude and overly pushy, but you do want to make sure your situation is still on their radar and being addressed and expedited. Be sure to take note of the dates and times of all conversations you have with your agent, along with a brief summary of what was discussed.
 
4. Follow-Up to Ensure You Received Your Refund
Once your refund is approved, be sure to follow through to ensure that it’s actually credited to your account. It may take some time, so always ask the rep handling your case when you can expect to see it applied to your credit card statement. If it still hasn’t shown up when you were told it would, follow-up immediately. In a big company, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.
 
5. Appeal a Denied Dispute
If your original dispute is denied, it may not be the end of the road for you. Ask to speak to a supervisor to see if there are any other options you may have. Is there an appeals process? Can a higher-up at the credit card company help re-open the investigation? If these don’t work, you can try contacting your state Attorney General’s office or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Explain your situation to them and see if there are any other options at your disposal.

Final Thoughts
Before you begin a credit card dispute process, make sure you’ve done all you can to work things out amicably with the business in question. It’s much faster and cleaner than going through a dispute process, and if you warn that you’re considering one, the business may elect to avoid the dispute and settle. In addition, most credit card companies require that you attempt to do this before it accepts your dispute. Credit card disputes are a great way to recoup your money for an efective product or unsatisfactory service, just understand that they’re meant only as a last resort.

Have you ever disputed a credit card purchase?

Don`t Be Blinded by Bling, Use Your Head When Choosing a Ring

Opinion Corp Market Research Website, PissedConsumer.com Offers Tips for Buying Wedding Rings

It’s wedding season and as the online searches for terms like “wedding venue”, “ wedding dress” and “wedding dance” rise, so do the number of jewelry complaints on pissedconsumer.com, the consumer review site operated by market research firm Opinion Corp. The wedding bands and engagement rings are often one of the most costly parts of the wedding. Avoid following up the wedding day bliss with buyers remorse by being fully informed.

Vladimir Nardin, Executive Director of PissedConsumer.com, offers the following tips for purchasing the best engagement or wedding ring:

Do Your Homework– Familiarize yourself with the 4 c’s, Cut, Clarity, Color and Carat Weight. When you understand the criteria jewelers use for grading diamonds you’ll be better able to choose the right one for you.

Get Certified– A diamond of a carat or more should come with a gem report, a gemologist’s evaluation of the stone’s color by letter grade. This certification will be important if you ever decide to trade in the ring to upgrade.

Check for Quality– Make sure wedding bands have two marks inside the shank ring-the manufacturer’s trademark (proves they stand behind their work and the quality mark (24K for example) is proof of the metal. If the ring consists of two or more metals, make sure there is a quality mark for each metal.

Invest in Insurance-While your annual premium will be about 1 to 2.7 percent of the jewelry’s appraised value, the investment is worth the security.

About PissedConsumer.com

PissedConsumer.com is a premier consumer advocacy group, featuring consumer reviews and complaints in a social networking environment. The company uses online tools to publicize reviews and complaints filed by consumers on the Internet. In addition, the site offers a set of free tools necessary to bring the dispute to a fast and successful resolution, including a consumer complaint letter generator and collection of consumer tips and advice in the site’s consumer advocacy section.

 

WILL THE REAL LES PAUL PLEASE STAND UP

By Vladimir Nardin, PissedConsumer.com 

A good guitar shouldn’t cost a fortune. Right?

That’s what most consumers believe, and the market has responded in some unscrupulous ways. Brands like Apollo, Aspen and Rockinbetter make no bones about it — they’re not the same as the higher-priced brand-name guitar whose design and sound they’re trying to emulate. Other guitars aren’t at all what they appear to be. Everything down to the slapped-on insignia looks like the genuine article, but after a few minutes of strumming a subpar instrument you’ll be left singing the blues.

An article in the December 2009 issue of Premier Guitar magazine explored this topic at length: “Then the conversation turned to Chinese counterfeit Gibson guitars, and how they were coming into this country and fooling astute guitarists, famous rock stars and guitar dealers who should know better. I learned that counterfeit guitars have regularly shown up on eBay, where people have been—and continue to be—scammed out of their hard-earned money, thinking they were buying a real Les Paul, Stratocaster, Paul Reed Smith, or other well-known instrument.”

If experienced musicians are getting fooled by knockoff guitars, what are you and I to do? Buying directly from a factory’s website seems like a safer alternative than eBay, Craigslist or other second-hand sites, but even this isn’t foolproof. One aspiring guitarist describing his experience with the Fender factory on the website PissedConsumer.com, owned by market research firm Opinion Corp., wrote “Fender refuses to replace the guitar and only offers to fix the guitar in 6, yes, six months. Do not buy Fender guitars ever, their warranty and services are awful.”

In reality, there’s no way to entirely guard against buying a knockoff guitar disguised as a brand-name instrument. However, consumers can take steps to increase their odds of buying the best guitar possible.

Tip 1: Don’t purchase a guitar online. The price may be tempting and the retailer may be reputable, but you can’t put a price tag on being able to test a guitar for yourself in the store. This goes for any musical instrument, but the expansion of the knockoff guitar market makes it all the more true. A reputable instrument dealer is always going to be more vigilant against the black market than, say, eBay.

Tip 2: Know how you’re going to use the guitar and make your purchase accordingly. Are you a serious musician planning on making a recording or a giving a live performance? In that case, an audience can hear and judge the sound of your guitar at a high volume. The instrument needs to sound clear and crisp. Don’t skimp on quality, as an expert ear will be able to tell the difference between a genuine guitar and a cheap knockoff.

The rules are different if you’re not a performing musician, or if you’re just planning to use the guitar for practice at home. A cheaper guitar will likely require more long-term maintenance, or have a different feel from a more expensive model, but the basic mechanics of playing the instrument will be the same. The sound quality only needs to meet your basic standards — not someone else’s.

Tip 3: Always have this question in your back pocket: “How do we know it’s not a knockoff?” With enough experience, anyone can identify specific features that associate a genuine guitar with its maker — Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, Gretsch, Rickenbacker, et. al. Each comes with its own set of quirks. Some of these companies have been producing guitars for a century, making those quirks tougher for an unscrupulous guitar maker to emulate. A good clerk can answer the question by pointing to the guitar, so don’t be afraid to walk away if they can’t.

Knockoff brands have been filtering through the guitar market long enough that a silver lining has emerged: Some of them are actually pretty good. By getting the best sound out of lower-cost materials and increasing the quality of their craft, knockoff guitar makers have driven down the cost of a good instrument. As long as you’re a musician and not a collector, learning your guitar isn’t a genuine Les Paul doesn’t have to be a bummer if you’re happy with the sound.

Once you know what guitar you want, and what you’re able to get within your price range, you can rest easy and rock on.

5 Simple Ways to Stockpile Cash Before Tax Time

BY CATEY HILL, UltraPawn.com

While you’re probably imaging the flat-screen TV or Caribbean vaca you’ll take with that tax refund, the reality is that many of us won’t get anything from the IRS.  Even worse: We might owe money.

That’s why it’s important to build up a little cushion of cash now: It can mean the difference between repaying the IRS and them hounding you for cash for months to come (ick!).  Here are five things you can do to easily build up a stash of cash in time for tax time.

1. Don’t overpay for gas
It’s tempting just to get gas from the station near you, but that’s often not the cheapest. Instead, use the GasBuddy app to find the least expensive gas in your area. You can sometimes save 20 cents or more per gallon this way, which can mean big savings!

2. Ditch costly impulse buys
You know the drill: You go into a store knowing you just need a few little things, but somehow end up busting your budget.  To prevent that from happening, practice the five-second rule: Before you put anything in your basket or cart, wait five seconds, during which time you’ll ask yourself “do I really need this?”. Most of the time the answer is no, so move on to what you do need.

3. Sell your stuff smartly
With a site like UltraPawn.com, you can safely and easily sell stuff like old jewelry and electronics. They’ll send you money for the items within 24 hours.  Now that’s quick cash!

4. Go green
To keep from overspending, “go green,” which, in this case, means only taking cash with you when you leave the house — no credit and debit cards allowed.  It’s impossible to overspend when you can’t access more money!

5. Pick up a side gig
No one likes to think about extra work, but to earn cash fast, consider picking up a side gig like landscaping, babysitting or house cleaning in your spare time. You can use a site TaskRabbit.com to find these gigs, or tap into your Facebook or LinkedIn network to ask people if they need help with little tasks.

Tax Preparation Scams

In this world,” Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” Franklin never encountered the 9,834-section Internal Revenue Code that Americans must abide by, otherwise he could add annual tax hassles to the list of life’s certainties.

A cottage industry of tax-preparation services has sprouted since Franklin filed his final 1099. In 2007, the most recent year for which U.S. Census data is available, tax preparers reeled in $5.25 billion in receipts. With that much money changing hands — in addition to even more income, charitable donations and the other tax write-offs preparers are trusted to monitor — the potential for fraud and unfair business practices runs high.

In recent years the industry has migrated online. Gone are the piles of paperwork and long phone calls. Real-time customer service is now a click away. While this has simplified the process of filing taxes for some, others have been frustrated by familiar issues with tax preparers such as confidentiality violations, poor customer service and lost forms.

So who’s to blame? Independent tax preparers might not have an established reputation, which should be a red flag for taxpayers seeking outside help. But even name-brand companies like H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt and Turbo Tax are not exempt from giving consumers headaches.

One H&R Block customer writing on the website PissedConsumer.com, owned by market research firm Opinion Corp, found that desperate times called for desperate measures. “I called a few days  later to see when my check would be in,” the customer wrote, “and was told that not only did they not e-file my return they could not locate my paperwork within the office. When I informed them I was going to file a police report, (I was concerned about identity theft), a manager from another office called me and told me that my paperwork had been found.”

Fortunately, filing taxes is one area where the government is on your side when the private sector fails. The Internal Revenue Service encourages you to report fraud — online, over the phone or in person
— if you suspect you’ve been cheated by a tax preparer. It’s in the government’s best interest to have only honest tax preparers, so it will be vigilant about keeping the frauds accountable. Note, however,
that individual taxpayers will be held responsible for any tax returns they sign and submit to both state and federal agencies.

One benefit of the digital age: The IRS will email one tax tip a day to anyone who signs up for the free advice on their website. For those who need more in-depth assistance, the Volunteer Income Tax  assistance program helps taxpayers who make $51,000 or less prepare and file their IRS returns. The Tax Counseling for the Elderly program is a similar service for seniors. Both are free and offered in many local areas. Between January and April, visit IRS.gov or call 800-906-9887 for a list of VITA sites. To find a TCE or AARP Tax-Aide site during this same period, go to AARP.org or call 888-227-7669 (888-AARPNOW).

In addition, the IRS offers Low Income Taxpayer Clinics at little to no cost to qualifying individuals. It’s a useful resource for non-fluent English speakers and anyone who can’t afford to hire a
lawyer to resolve a dispute with the IRS.

Regardless of your age or income bracket, never assume your tax preparer is as knowledgeable as he claims to be. Ask lots of questions whenever you do business with a tax preparer online, over the phone, or in person. If you don’t fully understand the answer, keep pressing until you do — providing detailed explanations are part of their job. If you file through a small company or individual, be especially careful to research their reputation, and get a firm quote or estimate of charges before you hand over your tax information.

Though both are guaranteed, death shouldn’t be preferable to filing taxes.

Top Celebrity Tax Evaders

For most of us, the idea of having IRS troubles brings cold sweats and sleepless nights. When we hear celebrities are having tax issues, we stretch our ears, pop popcorn, grab a bottle of something fun and bubbly and say ‘oooh, what did they do?’ Probably, we enjoy the gossip because we don’t really feel sorry for them. After all, most celebrities have or will have enough money coming in to eventually pay the fine. Yet some do time. Here’s a list of famous celebrity tangled finances, past and present, as reported by newsworthy sources. Grab that snack and drink.

Kevin Federline Britney Spears’ baby daddy is apparently in some hot water with the IRS, and it appears that the bill came due on Valentine’s Day. On February 19th, the websitePerezhilton.com reported that Kevin Federline apparently owes the IRS a whopping $57,000.00 in tax payments for the years 2009 and 2010. Yahoo Entertainment wrote, “A federal tax lien was field against ‘Scream & Shout’ singer’s second husband Kevin Federline on February 14th, claiming he owes $30,517.16 for outstanding income tax bills from 2009 and $27,098.23 from 2010.” The article further extracts from TMZ.com, “According to gossip website TMZ.com, the former back-up dancer’s income came from a small part in straight to DVD movie ‘American Pie: The Book of Love’ and from his stint on the reality series ‘Celebrity Fit Club’ in 2010, as well as his hefty spousal support payments.” 

Martha Stewart – Who could forget the white-gloved one behind bars, cutting snowflake shapes out of white prison paper to bedazzle her cell? According to People.com, the home and garden guru served five months in prison and five months of home confinement in 2004.  The People.com article reads, “Stewart, 62, was convicted on March 5 of conspiring with her Merrill Lynch stockbroker, Peter Bacanovic, to deceive authorities probing her December 2001 sale of ImClone Systems stock. Jurors said she lied during two interviews with investigators. Bacanovic also was sentenced to five months in prison and two years’ probation and was fined $4,000. Stewart, wearing a black pantsuit and joined by her daughter Alexis, shed no tears during Friday’s highly emotional hearing, though her voice quivered at times as she spoke to Judge Cedarbaum.” According to the website Legalzoom.com, Stewart was forced to pay $220,000 in back taxes and penalties to the State of New York, “learning the hard way that East Hampton mansions also generate taxes. Her claim that she hardly spent time there didn’t reduce her burden, or appease the state of New York,” the site states.

Sammy Davis Jr. – It was not a sweet surprise for “The Candy Man” when he died in 1990 leaving behind a hefty $5.2 million tax bill. In October 1991, People.com writer John Tayman wrote about the sale of nearly everything Davis Jr. owned to cover this tax bill. The writer states, “During 60 years as an entertainer, he filled nightclubs, concert halls and movie houses. But last Sunday, Sammy Davis Jr., who died a year and a half ago of throat cancer, pulled what may be his final SRO crowd. Some 1,300 people—including celebrities, collectors and the merely curious—shouldered into a prestigious Hollywood auction house for the sale of Davis’s memorabilia. Included in the eclectic collection of goods: inscribed photos of Davis pals Elvis Presley (offered at $3,750) and Marilyn Monroe ($5,500); an eight-foot-tall fiberglass statue of a character from The Planet of the Apes ($2,500); and approximately 350 of Davis’s musical arrangements ($10,000). When the gavel came down for the last time, $440,000 worth of trinkets and memories had been sold, every dollar’s worth carefully logged by an agent from the Internal Revenue Service who sat impassively in the front row.”

Wesley Snipes – According to Forbes.com, American film actor and martial artist, Mr. Snipes is doing time, having recently celebrated his 50th birthday in federal prison. Contributor and attorney Robert W. Wood writes in his Forbes article on Snipes, “In 2008, Snipes was convicted of three misdemeanor counts of failing to file tax returns. He reported to prison on December 9, 2010. He was initially sentenced to McKean Federal Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison in northwest Pennsylvania. He is now at the adjacent prison camp, a minimum security Club Fed, where he is inmate number 43355-018. According to E! Online, this federal prison camp houses roughly 290 white-collar inmates. Remember Snipes in “White Men Can’t Jump“? Perhaps in his new digs Snipes should start shooting a sequel: “White-Collar Men Can’t Jump.” In his immensely successful screen life, Snipes normally cares about film release dates. But his next release date is more important: He’s scheduled for a July 19, 2013 release. That means less than a year to go.”

Stephen Baldwin – On the Piers Morgan show, actor Alec Baldwin commented on his brother Stephen Baldwin’s arrest that it was “all prearranged with the DA for him to go in.” Still, it can’t be fun to be handcuffed for failing to pay your bills to the IRS.  Just this past December, CNN reported that Stephen Baldwin had been taken into custody for his problems with the IRS. “Actor Stephen Baldwin was arrested Thursday on a charge of failing to file New York state personal income tax returns for three years, according to a statement released by the Rockland County district attorney’s office. According to the statement, Baldwin’s alleged tax liability for failure to file in 2008, 2009 and 2010 is more than $350,000, including penalties and interest. The arrest was a result of an investigation conducted by the Rockland County Special Investigations Unit and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, the statement said,” the article reads.  Baldwin was arrested but did not serve jail time.

Leona Helmsley – Who can forget that the Queen of Mean spent 16 years in prison over her IRS debacle? In April 2012, New York magazine published an article on famous scandals, noting that “her trial in 1989 for tax evasion was a delicious coda to the decade, offering up the pleasure of watching the Queen of Mean, outrageous, nasty, and entitled, be forced to swap her 10,000-square-foot Park Lane penthouse for a prison cell.” The article further states “Charged with 235 counts of tax evasion, [her husband] Harry, a frail 80-year-old, was found unfit to stand trial, so Leona was left to face her employees’ revenge. The high point: housekeeper Elizabeth Baum’s recounting that Leona told her ‘We don’t pay taxes, only little people pay taxes.’ Fined $7.1 million, Leona served eighteen months in prison and was freed in 1994 (her husband died in 1997).”

Marc Anthony The ‘I Need to Know’ singer and songwriter was not in tune with the IRS and was reported as having owed more than $3 million in back taxes in 2010. The New York Daily News article of December 31, 2010 states “Crooner Marc Anthony is running a more than $3 million IRS tab. Long Island property he owns has been hit with two tax liens worth $3.4 million, documents posted on RadarOnline show.” Examiner.comreported that the singer cited bad management as the reason for his debts adding up. 

Lionel Richie – “Hello, is it Me You’re Looking For?” The answer to the IRS was “Yes” when Richie was questioned about his tax bill in 2012. According to Todayentertainment.com, the music legend owes a whopping $1.1 million in unpaid taxes from 2010. The April 2012 article states, “In addition, Richie has been slapped with a lien, meaning the federal government has the right to seize his assets if he does not pay up in a timely manner.  Fortunately, with new projects in the works it seems the “All Night Long” crooner should be able to scrounge up the cash to put this financial matter behind him.”

Ten Terrific Tax Tips

With the tax-filing deadline looming, here are ten tips to help make this year’s filing a breeze.

1. Lost your job? Could be good news!  You might quality for the Earned Income Tax Credit.  And since unemployment benefits do not count towards eligibility, only take your regular wages into account.  For a single, childless taxpayer, you need to make less than $13,980, with two children you qualify with less than $41,952. 

2. Report it all! If you did receive unemployment benefits, including disability payments or assistance that falls under the Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, you should have a Form 1099-G to report your income. 

3. Last call for the American Opportunity. The American Opportunity Tax Credit, which was introduced in the 2009 stimulus bill, was extended through 2012.  This means a credit of up to $2,500 of the cost of eligible education expenses, and up to $1,000 of this credit could come back to a taxpayer as a refund.

4. Pay attention to form 1099-K. This new form records payments received through third party networks like credit card companies or PayPal.  The form was introduced for 2011 over concerns that small businesses were not reporting all of their income.  Now that the IRS has access to credit card or online payments, this form ensures that parties keep it honest.

5. Gift fiving is good. In 2011 the estate tax was resurrected and the unified gift tax as well.  This means that you can give away $5 million in your lifetime without suffering the 35% gift tax.  Also, giving to charities can help to reduce your annual tax bill.

6. Only hire a pro. If you hire someone to prepare your taxes, ask him or her about their IRS registration status and verify it is in good standing.  Tax return preparers must fine their PTIN (Preparer Tax Identification Number) with each submission, and over time the IRS has made tax preparers more accountable to the numbers and their filings.  It has been proposed that they will need to prepare proposals with their fingerprints, and as of this year, pass competency exams.

7. Accelerate income. The top income tax bracket in 2012 is 35% of annual taxable income.  This could jump to 39.6% in 2013, so if you are in the top tax bracket, you may wish to opt to accelerate income into 2012 and pay taxes at a lower rate.

8. Don’t overpay tax prep. Check out this tax preparation cost comparison on NerdWallet.com and compare the benefits of using Turbotax vs. H&R Block to do your taxes.

9. Choose the right form. The 1040EZ offers only the Earned Income Tax Credit, while the longer 1040 offers education and other credits. 

10. Always file an extension. If you simply can’t complete and fine on time, file for that extension to avoid penalties and interest.

All-Inclusive Vacations: Rewarding or Really Awful?

The travel industry has rebounded nicely from the 2008 recession, but some things never change: Vacation travel and frustration go hand-in-hand from the time we leave the airport.

In the most recent data released by the U.S. Travel Association, direct spending on leisure and travel by domestic and international travelers totaled $564 billion in 2011. The economic impact of adults who have cancelled vacations, or grew tired with the hassles of air travel and got turned off from taking off, is just as staggering. 

A June 2008 study by the USTA noted that “a deep frustration among air travelers caused them to avoid an estimated 41 million trips over the past 12 months at a cost of more than $26 billion to the U.S. economy.” In more recent data, the Traveler Sentiment Index hasn’t been above 100 (which indicates a more positive than negative perception) since 2007. The index fell as low as 78.2 in 2009 before rebounding to 93.5 in April 2012 — still well short of the 100 score recorded in March 2007, according to USTA and MMGY Global data.

A common culprit seems to be the “all-inclusive vacation.”

The concept sounds too good to be true. Pay upfront for your entire package — food, lodging and ground transportation — then just sit back and enjoy your vacation. Companies have been providing this service for decades with travelers booking by phone. In the last 10 years, online outlets have made it easier to select your own round-trip flights as well. 

Often, it is too good to be true. One recurring problem is that the company providing the “all-inclusive” package typically doesn’t own the hotel, the transportation company, or the activities you choose — it merely books the arrangements. Try to take a complaint to the company that booked your vacation, and they will forward you to the hotel, activity provider, or transportation company. Go there first, and they may try to blame the booking company. 

Some horror stories border on the extreme. One traveling couple who booked an all-inclusive vacation in the Bahamas through the popular website Expedia.com was surprised to discover upon arriving that their resort was closing. Describing the experience on the website pissedconsumer.com, owned by market research firm Opinion Corp, they wrote: “They closed the Sunday we left and were dismantling the rooms, restaurants, bars, pool … around us while we were there. None of the amenities were available.” 

Among the most popular targets for complaints is Apple Vacations. Founded in 1969, Apple Vacations began building the country’s largest provider of vacations to Mexico, Caribbean and Hawaii. In the late 1970s, the company became one of the first to introduce the concept of “all-inclusive vacations” to the U.S. market. For all their experience, Apple Vacations is not immune to the “all-inclusive” pitfalls like delayed flights, lost or incorrect hotel reservations, hidden costs, and poor customer service.

At least your local travel agent can address these concerns in person. Since Apple, Expedia and other all-inclusive vacation providers conduct business online and over the phone, face-to-face complaining isn’t a convenient option. “Long-distance runaround” isn’t just a song by Yes — it’s a good reason to say No to all-inclusive vacation packages.

Travel expert Paula Conway  offers the following tips for booking an all-inclusive vacation:

1. Let the destination rule your decision – Some destinations are built for the all inclusive experience, while some simply aren’t.  In the case where the resort is the destination, and there’s just not much to do outside the resort, the all-inclusive makes sense.  Just make sure you want to do all of your eating and drinking at the resort before you book. 

2. Advance book – The farther out you book, the best all-inclusive deal you will get.  Also consider the air fare, which increases by the week, you don’t want to pay a premium on a vacation that can be booked out many months in advance and save you a lot of money.

3. Go off-season – If you want an all-inclusive in the Bahamas or Caribbean, the summer is when the resorts are least crowded and slash their rates.  Summer and shoulder seasons (June to November) are your best bets for great travel deals, up to 60% off in many cases. And remember: don’t book during Spring Break (March/April) unless you love the idea of having the property packed with high school and college kids drinking heavily and partying into the wee hours of the night, while you are trying to sleep.

4. Do your homework – Read websites for honest reviews of the properties you have in mind.  There’s plenty of good intelligence out there so brush up before you book.

5. Pay one fee – you can book everything from the air to the hotel on booking sites like Orbitz or Expedia.  Don’t spread the cash around, make one booking and therefore one payment.  Also be sure that all costs are included in what you’re booking, read the fine print.

6. Consider niche vacations – There are all-inclusive vacations for goodies, explorers, and fitness junkies.  It doesn’t just have to be a large property filled with ongoing buffets.  Look into what you really want to do and do your research.

7. Read the fine print – Some will say “all-inclusive meals,” which doesn’t mean that the resort is all-inclusive, but rather just that the meal includes drinks, and often that is even limited though the language doesn’t reflect it.  Read everything carefully. 

8. What is the tipping policy? – Some all-inclusive deals include tipping, while others do not.  Don’t be stuck with $200 extra in tips at the end unless you accounted for it.

9. Food and drink – Many all-inclusives offer different types of dining: the all-you-can-eat buffet and snack bars that are open all or most of the time, and then there’s the more popular a la carte meals at set times throughout the day.  The a la carte meal times will fill up fast, so you want to know in advance which restaurants you wish to try and make that reservation in advance.  Drinks are typically a bulk affair, and drinkers appreciate the beer and cocktails that never end, but most non-drinkers don’t know that they have the option of ongoing fruit smoothies and juices, and don’t ask for this. 

10. Upgrades – Upgrades can be very cost-effective with an all-inclusive package, having you arrive at some nice perks like a club-level suite and free Internet access for just a little more money.  

The Today Show Announces “The Travel Season Is Upon Us”

Consumer Complaint Site PissedConsumer.com Offers Tips to Keep Your Air Travel Expectations in Check and Enjoy Your Flight

More than 800 passengers complained about U.S. airlines in the last six months on PissedConsumer.com, operated by market research firm Opinion Corp.  Flyers are most often up in arms about refunds they don’t receive, hidden fees, lost and damaged luggage, pricey in-flight food (which isn’t very tasty either), seats being double booked and tickets snafus.
Vladimir Nardin, Executive Director of PissedConsumer.com, offers the following tips to consumers planning to travel.

1.  SHOW UP EXTRA EARLY FOR FLIGHTS – buy a day pass for the airport lounge, you will be comfortable and relaxed for last-minute snafus
2.  DO NOT CHECK LUGGAGE – try packing everything in a carry-on to avoid the possibility of lost or damaged luggage
3.  PACK YOUR OWN MEALS AND SNACKS – it’s more nutritious, you will save you money, and you will not be disappointed by not having a meal in flight
4.  USE MILES FOR AN UPGRADE OVER A SEAT – you’ll be more comfortable with the extra leg room and amenities
5.  COME PREPARED WITH MOVIES AND MUSIC LOADED ONTO YOUR iPOD OR TABLET

“Be as self sufficient as possible,” warns Nardin.  “Knowing ahead of time that the flight attendants are actually as harried as they look will help you prepare and enjoy your travel with managed expectations and a bit of extra planning.”

Transferring Your Prescription May Be Bad For Your Health

No doubt you’ve seen those tempting promotions at pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens and Target, promising a gift card, coupon–sometimes even cash–if you transfer your prescriptions to them. It seems like a no-brainer. Surely Walgreens can do as good a job at filling your prescriptions as CVS can. And although that $25 reward may sound like a pretty good deal to a cash-strapped consumer, it could actually be a bad deal for their health.

A study of pharmacists published in the September issue of the Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association shows that pharmacists perceive a reduction in the quality of care for patients transferring their prescriptions simply to reap those cash rewards. The pharmacists surveyed said patients that routinely use these incentives to save money might be at increased risk for inadequate drug screenings.

A busy pharmacist—and what pharmacist isn’t busy?—could misread a medication name. Or a customer transferring a prescription for a generic medication who doesn’t recognize the name on the label could chalk it up to the new pharmacy substituting a different generic manufacturer and not see that actually, the prescription was not filled correctly.

Last July Ohio’s state board of pharmacy voted to fine or revoke the licenses of pharmacies that offered promotions encouraging prescription transfers. They also put an end to pharmacies guaranteeing how quickly a prescription will be ready. The changes came after the state surveyed its 5,700 licensed pharmacists. They got 1,800 responses, all concerned about working conditions that put patients at risk. “Every time a pharmacist dispenses a prescription, they review the patient’s list of drugs to be sure there are no inconsistencies and that the new drug won’t interact with another,” Gary Schnable, executive director of the Oregon Pharmacy Board told The Oregonian newspaper. “Every time a consumer switches pharmacies, it breaks that chain.”

Not only could it compromise the safety of medications—because they are filled in a rush, misread or misunderstood–it’s also illegal. Anyone whose prescriptions are subsidized by government programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare (for military families) can’t accept the gift card (or coupons or other monetary reward). In fact last April Walgreens agreed to pay $7.9 million in a settlement it reached after allegations by the Department of Justice that the drugstore chain gave $25 gift cards to those enrolled in government-run health programs.

Now Walgreens may have gone so far in the other direction, it’s misleading consumers about its new prescription transfer program. A consumer in Massachusetts describing his experience on the consumer review site PissedConsumer.com, owned by market research firm Opinion Corp., said he switched six prescriptions from CVS to Walgreens—with the expectation of six $25 gift cards—and was told he didn’t qualify because he was enrolled in a government program. “I have Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island,” he wrote, “this is NOT a government program! However, Walgreens says it falls within the restrictions. How? If Blue Cross Blue Shield falls within this program, most plans will.” He also wasn’t told he didn’t qualify until after transferring the prescriptions.

If you still want to take advantage of prescription transfer programs, how can you make the most of them? Read the fine print, say consumer spending experts. If there is paperwork involved or lengthy checkout lines, it might not be worth the wait. Pick a chain store with locations near your home—within walking distance is ideal. Check the hours of the new pharmacy. Many bigger chains are open all night, but their in-store pharmacy may not run on that extended schedule. And keep in mind that a $25 gift card may be a very attractive incentive—but it’s a one-time reward. Each refill will have to be done at that new pharmacy, which may not be as efficient or careful as your old one.

By: Beth Fields