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February 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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A Major Risk: When the Dive Operator Doesn’t Take Plastic

from the February, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

We’ve often warned about the pitfalls of booking with dive operations that don’t accept credit cards. If they go under, your deposit and perhaps your entire payment goes with them. The best protection for any dive trip is to make a deposit with your credit card to afford yourself protection against theft, fraud and in case the company goes out of business.

So, you can imagine what ran through subscriber Mark Freedman’s (Milwaukee, WI) mind when he recently considered booking a dive trip on the Solmar V in Cabo San Lucas for a group of ten. He was told deposits were only taken in check or money order form, not by credit card. “The owner simply states they don’t have a ‘merchant account,’ and therefore don’t accept payment by credit card, but I like the extra protection credit cards provide,” Freedman says. “I searched the Chapbook and found no problems with Solmar but it is under new management so their refusal to take credit cards could make one think they’re having cash flow problems. Isn’t it highly unusual not to accept credit card payment?”

It is, so we talked with Jose Luis Sanches, managing partner of the company that bought Solmar two years ago, and learned that one can only use a credit card to pay in full up front, but if one wants to put down a deposit and pay the balance later, it’s strictly through check or money order. Sanches says it’s just like using Expedia or another online travel agent to book a trip. “When you go to that kind of site, you need to pay for it in full. But if people choose to do deposits, we accept them as we have for the past 15 years.”

Ken Knezick, president of dive travel agency Island Dreams in Houston, sees no need to worry about their policy. “We’ve done business with them for years, always paying by check, and have never experienced any difficulties,” he says. He took a dive group on the Solmar V last November.

“The bottom line is that accepting credit cards costs the merchant from three to five percent in commissions charged by the credit card company,” says Knezick. “When operating in a low-margin industry like travel, this can be a very consequential expense. If Solmar is able to run their business without tithing to Mastercard and Visa, I should think more power to them.”

The “pay upfront for everything” policy is becoming the way of the web. If you’re concerned about the viability of a company, particularly new or obscure or distant, plastic, not cash, offers some insurance. Or, go through a travel agency, such as Island Dreams, to add another layer of protection. If you have booked directly by check or bank transfer with a foreign-owned dive operator who later goes south, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever see your money again.

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