By Jim Donovan

By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Have you ever put anything away on layaway, where you pay off an item a little at a time?  Well these days it’s not just for retailers. 3 On Your Side consumer reporter Jim Donovan shows us how travel companies are using layaway, making it easier for you to take your dream vacation.

Richard Popkin and his wife Karol like to put their getaways on layaway.

“It offers me the opportunity to put down very little money at, at the beginning,” said Richard Popkin.

The couple takes as many as five big trips a year.  Their trick? To look for deals and jump on them fast.

“Making a decision by only having to put down  $200 per person, is, is certainly a lot easier than if we had to pay for the whole trip,” said Popkin.

The idea is to pay it off slowly in installments. The timing depends on the type of vacation you choose, but you must pay in full before you head to the airport.

“A typical vacation will cost two or three thousand dollars for a family of four. People just don’t have that money saved up.  You can put any kind of a trip on layaway. They’re typically used for more expensive trips like cruise or a european vacation,” said founder, George Hobica.

Putting that milestone trip within reach.

“We empower the consumer to have the flexibility to book a vacation up to 18 months before the trip is going to take place,” said Marty Seslow with Gate 1 Travel.

Tough economic times brought vacation layaway to the forefront, but its not just for the budget conscious.

“We see folks at the higher end of the spectrum buying a more deluxe vacation experience,” said Seslow.

When you use layaway, you don’t run up credit card interest charges and you have the benefit of locking in the price of that trip early on. But experts say there are potential drawbacks.

“You do tie up your money, sometimes over several years, and that’s money that you could probably be using for something else so you’re giving the company a free loan,” said Hobica.

Some layaway plans will refund your money or help you defer the trip if problems arise.

Before booking any trip be sure to understand the cancellation and change polices and consider purchasing travel insurance too.

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