I woke up Friday morning to my Twitter literally ON FYRE. The hashtags #FyreFestival, #JaRule, and #Scam continuously flashed throughout my timeline and I knew -- this was going to be good.
Wiping the 7am crust out of my sleepy eyes, I grabbed imaginary popcorn and squinted at my phone to follow a series of tweets.
Holy hunger games.
The entire debacle was actually quite hilarious (wealthy youngsters in despair after living life in blissful ignorance? The broke in me couldn't help but giggle.) But I bet a few people are wondering how it could've been avoided or at least -- how to notice the red flags and what to do if you are in such a situation.
Because the truth is, when you pay for a vacation... you kind of expect to get it, right?
The whole situation challenges the trust we travelers put into our tour guides, travel agents, and autonomous booking confidence.
Note: I am not going to go in on the details about the incident because I don't want to rob you of the joy you'll receive reading about it yourself. So here is a link for that.
Here are ways to prevent and protect yourself from a #FyreFestival situation:
1. Read reviews and research the location
With #FyreFestival, you'd assume that a first-time event would have no reviews (makes sense), so taking a chance to spend thousands of dollars to go on a "private island" and see Blink 182 (???) would totally be worth it, right?
You see, there was a bit of research that could've been done before booking. Here are some examples:
- Check the location -- don't just take their word for it: The #FyreFestival marketing campaign boasted a private island, making it sound pretty luxurious and totally worth the big bucks. But as @FyreFraud pointed out on twitter a month before the festival, if you researched the confirmed location on a map, it was not on "Fyre Cay" but adjacent to a Sandals resort on the touristic island, Great Exuma.
2. Communication is everything
Not only was it reported in early April that the Fyre Festival organizers weren't making their payments on time, guests also reported having communication issues well before the event.
It's a huge red flag when a company refuses to show accommodation photos or answer questions (in a timely manner, or at all). Many attendees became suspicious of the event as early as February when Fyre Festival demanded payment in full but took forever to answer simple inquiries about basic amenities. Eventually the organizers stoped answering altogether.
What to do: when your gut tells you something is wrong, act on it.
Look into the business that is hosting the trip and Google the name of the company or event along with the words "scam" or "fraud" and see what other people are saying about it. There were plenty of rumors and suspicions circling the web that suggested this event wouldn't turn out well.
Remember: if communication doesn't meet your expectations when it is time to give your money to a company, what do you think it'll be like when the whole trip falls apart and it is time to get your money back?
3. Never pay cash
Cash doesn't protect you, period. But by U.S. law, major debit and credit cards are supposed to offer zero liability for customers (reasonable conditions apply: read more in this article). The problem? Paying with debit immediately takes money out of your pocket, whereas credit is borrowed funds.
When reporting fraud, it can take a while to get your money back -- that is a huge deal when you've paid cash. If you can, always pay with a credit card so that in the event of a dream vacation gone terribly wrong, your daily life and bills won't be affected.
Additionally, be sure to create a paper trail of every bit of communication between you and the supplier. This way, when it is time to file a report for a refund, you have as much evidence as possible.
Updated note: Just because you don't pay with cash doesn't mean don't BRING cash. Apparently the guests were also told it was a cashless weekend because they could charge everything to their Fyre Festival wristband.
This makes sense but at the end of the day, you never know what small things you'll need to pay for when not at the festival. When you are traveling internationally, especially on an island or in a small town, pocket cash is always safe. Most taxis, small businesses, and street vendors are cash-only in such places.
When traveling, I make sure my banks know where I am going and check what establishments take Visa or Mastercard in order to save my stashed cash for an emergency. I think $50-100 USD is sufficient.
4. Have insurance
I rarely buy trip insurance because I pay with a credit card that provides the same protection (Chase Sapphire, if you are wondering). If you do not have such benefits, you need trip insurance. It is an inexpensive way to protect you and may cover a trip cancellation (on your part), trip delay or interruption, or lost baggage.
Now the Fyre Festival is tricky because it was an all-inclusive trip that failed customers upon touchdown. Make sure you read the fine print of the insurance to see if benefits can be applied so you can get the heck out of that situation.
5. Be prepared
I couldn't believe how many people had dying phones, no water, etc. Some even had medications in their baggage, and tried to make the best of it all by drinking free alcohol (until it ran out). Then as icing on the cake, the gourmet meals they expected turned out to be worse than my public school lunch in the South Bronx.
Okay. Let's go through this scenario:
- You are going to an island for a weekend: bring extra chargers and battery packs for your phone
- You are going to an international island for a festival: bring medicine in your carry-on (always) and your own Advil / electrolytes / snacks
- You arrive at said island and everything is terrifyingly awry: in my opinion... do. not. start. drinking. Guest accounts on Twitter said they received free drinks as they waited for staff members to figure out what to do with them. Obviously the staff wanted a buzzed crowd to be chill enough to not care about what was happening. In reality, you want to be level-headed and hydrated so that you can take note of the incident, make appropriate calls, and get out of that situation.
6. Don't be fooled by the glamorous.
It's marketing 101 y'all. Put a thin white girl in a bikini on an island and boom! You have customers.
What is funny about this whole thing is it was promoted by models via Instagram. Maybe I am less fooled because I am an Instagramming influencer myself (and dabbled in some modeling) but not every influencer is honest.
First, most of them don't even abide by FTC regulations: influencers must state whether they've received any compensation from working with a brand (celebrities and models hardly reveal it)! It infuriates me. They are supposed to tag it #sponsored, AD, or #ad. These models didn't even tell their followers that they were being compensated.
Second, models endorse things they've never used or experienced ALL THE TIME: it is true. That's why they're rich and we're broke. Don't be surprised if a model is going to promote a festival she knows nothing about in exchange for free charter flights, accommodations, tickets, and some pocket money.
Sounds like they got the best out of the deal (minus the whole "now no one trusts you" factor).
Note: I am sure they didn't know it was going to fall apart, but when they received calls to not show up (yes they got a heads up) they should've immediately warned their loyal followers.
7. Sometimes things happen
Even if you took precaution and still ended up on a vacation from hell, know that stuff happens. This is a very dramatic account of "stuff" but still, thankfully no one was harmed in the process (minus a few egos and bank accounts).
Stay calm, record and take note of everything that occurs (having a local U.S. embassy phone number, email address, and twitter account details is ideal), and prepare to cash in when you return home because there are going to be A LOT of apology refunds and compensation.