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Family Vacation Layaways Make Travel More Accessible For Some, But Could Come At A Price

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - These days you can put just about anything on layaway, including that upcoming family vacation.

More and more companies are now offering various payment plans to book trips geared toward customers who cannot pay upfront.

Many times, payment plans make travel more accessible to people. But in some cases, consumers may end up paying more than they bargained for.

Jennifer Caldwell is a frequent traveler. Her policy is, "book now, pay later."

"It's a lot easier to say, 'Here's my credit card, we'll take care of the rest later,'" said Caldwell.

Using her travel agent, Caldwell is able to make multiple payments leading up to her vacation. Plus, she gets help planning the trip from a professional.

"We get paid the exact same way, there is no secret discount," said Leah Thrapp, a travel planner who created the company, Carefully Curated Trips: Flip Flops and Adventures. "You're paying for it either way, you might as well get the service you're paying for."

But if you want to stick to travel websites, consumers can find layaway plans for every budget offered by companies like Funjet Vacations and lovevacations.

For example, travelers using the site Bookit.com can purchase a vacation through a 'pay delay' plan. After making a downpayment for each traveler, consumers can make monthly payments leading up to the getaway. But be warned, a $9 fee is tacked onto every installment. Any missed payments results in a fine amounting to $35.

Bookit.com warns that if customers do not complete the payment program, "all monies processed will be forefeited and your booking will be canceled."

"PayDelay wasn't designed to encourage overspending," said Jesse Henson, Bookit.com's vice president of marketing. "To the contrary, it gives guests an opportunity to pay for their vacations over several weeks prior to their travel. Many BookIt.com guests are very happy with this option, and come back to us year after year to repeat the process."

Some companies, such as Uplift, go farther by offering travel loans.

With a downpayment, customers can take a trip as soon as seven days after booking, then pay off the balance over the next year.

Uplift Chief Commercial Officer Tom Botts said the simple interest rate ranges between eight and 30 percent, and applicants are approved within seconds.

"We're enabling consumers to actually lock in lower fares in advance and help them realize their dreams," said Botts.

The executive said the flexibility of taking out a loan could benefit people who need to quickly book an emergency trip for a sudden event, such as a death in the family.

Botts said Uplift will work with customers who miss repeatedly miss payments.

"We work internally for a period of time to ultimately see if we can work it out with the consumer," Botts explained. "If we're unable to, we do report to the credit bureaus."

But Stephanie Drenka, a Dallas-based travel blogger, argued that certain financing models could target vulnerable consumers.

"It's irresponsible for me to recommend to someone what could cause them long-term harm," said Drenka.

Drenka said trip financing is nothing new, pointing to popular options offered by cruise lines or Disney vacation packages.

But she urged travelers to consider other costs, especially if money is already tight.

"You may also still be paying for accommodations, food, activities," Drenka said. "Even when you're there trying to enjoy, it's hard to fully be present when you're worried about your bank account in over draft or reaching your credit card limit."

Before signing up for a layaway plan or a vacation loan, investigate the company's cancellation policies.

In the event of a hotel or airline cancelling a reservation, PayDelay allows customers to rebook the trip or receive a refund or credit.

If a customer must cancel a trip, he or she will receive a refund minus any applicable penalties from the hotel or airline.

Uplift also follows the cancellation policies of their travel partners. Botts said any amount of money refunded to the consumer is automatically credited to their loan.

Botts strongly encouraged buying trip insurance, but he did acknowledge instances when customers were issued refunds in full.

"We have refunded hundreds of cruises in full, including all interest charges when the last round of hurricanes swept through the Caribbean," Botts said. "Similarly, when travel to Cuba was banned, Uplift made all of those guests whole entirely for those that opted to cancel. "

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