Generally, the Seller of Travel law protects consumers by requiring registration of sellers of travel, requiring them to issue clear disclosures, imposing financial restrictions on certain sellers of travel, creating a restitution fund to protect consumers from losses under specific circumstances, and providing oversight and enforcement by the Office of the Attorney General.
For more information, please see Business and Professions Code section 17550 et seq.
All sellers of travel must register with the Attorney General's Office, Seller of Travel Program, before they can operate lawfully within the State of California. Registration requires, among other things, disclosure by the seller of business addresses, fictitious business names (dbas), identifying information as to principals and owners, relationship with the airlines, the location of a trust account or information about a surety bond (if one of these protections is required). The registration number should be clearly displayed on all advertising materials.
Registration is not the same as licensing, which usually involves some review and approval. For sellers of travel, so long as the seller discloses the necessary information in its application, a registration number will be issued to the applicant. In the event a seller does not provide the promised transportation or travel services, information in the registration file will assist in locating that seller.
When first contacting a seller, ask for the registration number and expiration date of that seller's current registration. Registration is good for one year and must be renewed annually. Do not deal with any seller who does not disclose its registration number in advertising materials, or who declines to tell you the number and expiration date. While registration does not mean that the seller is reputable, you should avoid any seller who has not taken this simple safeguard required by law.
For more information, please see Business and Professions Code sections 17550.20, 17550.21.
Be sure to check all the written disclosures the seller provides you to determine how the seller will protect your money.
Some sellers of travel are required to deposit all payments received into a trust account or to obtain a surety bond on behalf of their customers. Others are not required to maintain either a trust account or post a bond. Some may participate in the Travel Consumer Restitution Fund. Others may not.
All sellers, however, that receive a payment from one passenger may not use that money to buy travel on behalf of another passenger or to pay for rent, overhead, or any personal use, until they have delivered to you the goods and services that you have purchased.
If a seller tells you that it is not able to obtain travel that you have purchased because your payment has been spent on some other trip, or for business or personal purposes, immediately contact the police, your local District Attorney, or the Attorney General's office. Such taking of your payment may be prosecuted as a felony.
For more information, please see Business and Professions Code sections 17550.13, 17550.14, 17550.15, 17550.16, and 17550.19.
In general, before accepting payment, even a partial one, a seller of travel must provide you with various written disclosures including its name, business address and telephone number, an itinerary, a statement about its cancellation policy, the total amount to be paid, the amount paid to date, the date of any future payment, the purpose of the payment made, an itemized statement of the balance due, if any, whether it has a trust account or surety bond, whether your payment is protected by the Restitution Fund, and how to make a claim to TCRC. Under certain circumstances, if a seller fails to provide you with its cancellation policy in writing, it cannot later impose penalties in the event that you cancel.
For more information, please see Business and Professions Code sections 17550.13 and 17550.14.
First check to see if the seller of travel is registered with the Office of the Attorney General. In addition, you may want to check with your local Better Business Bureau or Department of Consumer Affairs to learn how long the seller of travel has been in business, whether there have been any law enforcement actions brought against it in the past, and the nature of consumer complaints it has received, if any.
As a law enforcement agency, the Attorney General's Office does not release information on consumer complaints that involve as-yet-unproven allegations that could create misleading and unfair impressions about a company. Our Consumer Law Section uses these consumer complaints to look for patterns of deceptive or unfair business practices where a legal action brought by the Attorney General could serve the interest of the general public.
The Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation ("TCRC") is a non-profit organization. It is not part of the Office of the Attorney General. It manages the Travel Consumer Restitution Fund and decides restitution claims. For more information, or to file a claim with the TCRC, visit the Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation website.
If you have a complaint about an airline, you should contact the United States Department of Transportation:
Aviation Consumer Protection Division, C-75
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20590
Phone: (202) 366-2220
If you have a complaint about a cruise ship, please contact:
Office of Informal Inquiries and Complaints
Federal Maritime Commission
800 North Capitol St., NW, Room 1052
Washington, D.C. 20573-0001
Phone: (202) 523-5807
Vessel Safety - If you have concerns or complaints about safety issues on a cruise ship, please contact:
Office of Vessel Activities (CG-543)
U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters
2100 Second Street, SW
Washington, DC 20593
Phone: (202) 372-1251
Sanitary Conditions - If you have a complaint about unsanitary conditions on a cruise ship, please contact:
Vessel Sanitation Program
National Center for Environmental Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd
Atlanta, GA 30333
Phone: (800) 232-4636
Complete the Consumer Complaint form from this office. Upon receipt of your complaint, we will forward a copy to the involved seller of travel. While the Office of the Attorney General does not represent individual consumers and cannot give you legal advice, when possible we will forward your complaint on to the company, and depending on the circumstances, file actions against sellers of travel that violate the law.
You also should send a copy of your complaint to the District Attorney's Office where you are located and/or where the seller of travel is located. In addition, if you believe that your payment has been misappropriated, you may also wish to contact your local police department. If they are unfamiliar with the specialized laws in this area and inform you that such conduct is "civil" in nature only please contact our office by calling (213) 269-6564.