WHEN JOHN ROBERTS BEGAN HIS search for the perfect honeymoon trip, a friend told him about a great deal on a trip to Hawaii. His first thought was, "Yeah, yeah, it sounds too good to be true."
But then he ran into another friend who had actually taken that particular package to Hawaii.
"He said the trip had been great, the hotel they stayed in was nice and the whole thing had been a pretty good deal," says Mr. Roberts, a local consultant with IBM. "So I called the agency in Illinois and paid $50 for a certificate, which guaranteed the trip, and a $200 deposit. The airline called to confirm the flight, and everything looked good."
A few weeks before the wedding Mr. Roberts tried calling the travel agency to get a final quote on the trip, which had been estimated at between $1,200 and $1,400. Finally, just a week before the wedding, he was told the trip would now cost $2,200.
"I told him we just couldn't afford that and asked to speak to his supervisor. But the supervisor never called back," says Mr. Roberts. "Then I heard on the news that this travel agency was under investigation for fraud."
So Mr. Roberts scrambled to arrange another honeymoon trip. ** He and his bride ended up going to Sanibel Island off the coast of Florida.
"It was a great trip," he says, "but it wasn't Hawaii."
Mr. Roberts learned the hard way what established travel agents are always warning their clients: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Your honeymoon is such an important trip that it's worth taking the time to find a reputable travel agent, advises Courtney Froemming, assistant director of public relations for the American Society of Travel Agents.
"There are so many scams and hidden costs in planning trips. A good travel agent can make all your plans and get you the best bargain."
She suggests looking for agencies that are members of the American Society of Travel Agents, which has its own code of ethics. Companies that have long roots in the community are also good bets. If you have any doubts, consult the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against a certain agency.
"Remember, a travel agency doesn't cost you, and one travel agency has access to the same rates and packages as another agency," says Lisa Huff, owner of Hunt Valley Travel.
Even if you think you've found the perfect trip advertised in the newspaper, at least talk it over with a travel agent, advises Clem Dietze, owner of Dietze & Renner Travel Agents. An experienced agent can confirm the ad and give you more information.
But finding a good travel agency is only one part of the puzzle. Your very first step in planning your honeymoon -- even before you talk to a travel agent -- should be to decide what you like to do as a couple.
"Everybody jokes that it doesn't matter where you go on your honeymoon," says Mr. Dietze. "But it really does. You need to decide what you like to do as a couple."
Since your choice of honeymoon can influence the timing of your wedding, it's a good idea to start thinking about the honeymoon as soon as you begin planning the wedding.
For example, if you like water sports, a January trip to Bermuda just won't cut it. (Unless of course, you like freezing water.) A summer trip to Bermuda or a winter trip to the Bahamas might be more appropriate.
"October was a great time for us to go on our honeymoon," says Debbie Dicker, whose in-laws have traditionally given honeymoon packages to their children as wedding gifts. So far, Debbie and her husband Ted, as well as Ted's brothers and Debbie's sister have all honeymooned at Disney World.
"The weather [in Florida] was gorgeous, it wasn't very crowded and we didn't have to wait for many of the major attractions," says Mrs. Dicker.
Bermuda was at the top of the list of honeymoon spots for nearly every travel agent we interviewed. It's not necessarily the least expensive choice, but it's considered a romantic location offering enough variety to satisfy any number of tastes.
Other destinations popular among local honeymooners are Jamaica, the Bahamas, Mexico, and domestic trips to Southern California, Florida and the Carolinas.
For couples who have more than one week at their disposal and want to go further afield, Hawaii -- especially Maui and Kauai -- Alaska and Europe are top choices.
Before you get too far in your honeymoon plans, be sure to set a budget.
It's in your own best interest not to let embarrassment keep you from being honest with your travel agent, says Ms. Froemming, who just got married herself a few months ago. "Remember, travel agents are regular people and they often have limited budgets, too."
And, don't be afraid to ask questions. Inquire about the %o accommodations, the weather, tipping, possible taxes and estimated costs for activities and meals.