Sears Vacations? Department Store Now Sells Travel ... On Layaway

 @MarkJohansonIBT on June 21 2012 4:23 PM

The name Sears may bring to mind kitchen appliances or lawn and garden supplies, but now the retail chain is dipping its toes into a new venture: your vacations.

Sears, Roebuck and Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of Sears Holdings Corporation (NASDAQ: SHLD), officially launched its travel website SearsVacations.com on Wednesday with an exclusive introductory sale: 100 vacations for $399 or less. The deal includes all-inclusive cruise vacations, family vacation packages and specials on locations like Orlando, Las Vegas, New York, the Caribbean and Mexico.

But there's a catch. Sears is luring customers by allowing them to put their vacations on layaway.

Putting items on layaway, or paying for an item in installments (typically with interest), was a popular method during the Great Depression when Sears was at its pinnacle. The idea died down during the 1990s credit boom but has been revived during the new recession by big-box retailers like Wal-Mart.

The reason? Many consumers have had a hard time getting access to credit cards, and retailers saw an opportunity to finance certain purchases.

Whether it's a smart move for the consumer is up for debate. If you're strapped for cash, you can book a trip and put down whatever money you have upfront and pay off the balance when you have the money. The problem, however, is that most layaway plans come with interest. So your $399 vacation can end up being considerably more expensive when all is said and done.

As of press time, there was no word from Sears on what, if any, interest will be accrued.

Sears licensed operation of the SearsVacations.com site to International Cruise & Excursions Inc., a global travel and leisure company that will provide customer support and travel fulfillment.

While the company promises no fees for hotels and cruises, Sears says a booking fee may be charged for air reservations. Before booking, it would be wise to check what Sears' fees are for late payments and read the fine print to know precisely when your payments are due and how much time you have to pay off the purchase.

But if you're purchasing a vacation on layaway, you really may want to rethink the whole idea.

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