Buying a Vacay on Layaway: Bad Idea?

A new booking site from Sears lets travelers purchase vacations on layaway. But the program could be a good deal for Sears—and a bad deal for customers seeking low-priced getaways.

Sears introduced its new travel booking site, SearsVacations.com, this week. The site sells cruises, airfare, hotel stays, packages, and car rentals. According to a press release from the company, select prepaid packages from Sears Vacations are eligible for layaway financing—you can buy now and pay over time.

Currently, there's not much information about the layaway option on the Sears Vacations site. I reached out to the company to get more details about the layaway plan and did not hear back by publication time. So I called the customer service number posted on the website. 

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A salesperson told me that the company's layaway program requires a $99 deposit. Although, he said, Sears Vacations levies no interest, it charges $9 a month on top of regularly scheduled payments. The salesperson offered no further details on cancellation policies or length of plans; it's safe to speculate that all this ambiguity is simply the byproduct of a fresh launch. Sears Vacations is just getting off the ground, thus maybe their ducks are not yet lined up. Still, any traveler would be wise to avoid a layaway program without taking a thorough look at all the relevant fine print.

Taking into account the small amount of information I received, this layaway option looks to be a disappointment. Nine bucks a month could amount to an almost obscenely high interest rate, depending on the price of your package. Let's say you've signed up for a 12-month payment plan for a trip that costs $399. (Right now, the site is running a sale featuring 100 packages for $399 or less each.) That's a 27 percent annual percent interest rate (A.P.R.).

You'd be better off putting your trip on a credit card with a more reasonable A.P.R. The salesperson I spoke with encouraged me to lock in a low price now, and pay off the vacation through layaway. Since Sears Vacations is such a new site, though, there's no telling whether its prices are low enough to make up for such a high interest rate.  

Furthermore, many cruise lines and package providers offer the steepest discounts at the last minute. Booking more than a year in advance is not a dependable way to grab the best possible deal in every case, especially if you're traveling during shoulder season or off season when demand is low.

In short, buyer beware. We'll keep an eye on Sears Vacations and let you know if more information about its layaway program becomes available.

Would you buy a trip on layaway?

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(Photo: Shutterstock/Ewa Studio)

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