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7 Travel Tips to Avoid Getting Scammed in Miami

February 24, 2007 By Matt Meltzer in Miami: Local NewsMiami: Travel News  | 9 Comments

From the Spring Break Visitors Guide.


Before the invention of air conditioning, and subsequently the invention of the $800 electric bill, the only people who lived in Miami were the real outcasts of society. People who didn’t mind living in a backwater swamp with unbearable humidity, alligators around every corner, and mosquitoes larger than your average fourth-grader.  Basically, shady people who were running from something and didn’t want to be found. And in 100 years, not a lot has changed.


South Floridians, we are a crooked lot. If you do not come from a country where corruption is as much a part of daily life as feeding your pet rooster, you are an American who moved to avoid bankruptcy or Child Support. Possibly both. Either way, those of us who live here are pretty much always looking for ways to get money from someone else while doing as little work as possible. The problem, of course, is that it is very difficult to con a con man. And in a city full of con men (and women) that leaves only one group of people on whom to prey: The tourists.

Yes, fortunately South Florida has managed to strike that ever-so-rare combination of a completely morally bankrupt populous and a completely perfect climate. So what we get are a new crop of naïve outsiders showing up here every week just waiting to be taken for at least a small sum of cash.


Some do it on a large scale and rather blatantly. They are known as “hotels” and “nightclubs” who are very upfront about conning you out of your money and will justify it by throwing out fancy words like “supply” and “demand.” Others of us tend to get more creative. But nearly every tourist who has ever crossed the Dade County Line has been scammed or conned at some point. And very often you don’t even know it. So, as a service to you, the tourist, and as a great disservice to all my fellow South Floridians, here are some common scams you must watch out for while Spring Breaking in Miami. Beginning at the airport.


The most important thing to know when taking a taxi from MIA (that’s Miami International Airport. Cool double meaning, huh?) is that there is a flat rate fare when you are going to South Beach. That is to say they can’t charge you more or less than this amount no matter which route they take.


So if your driver wants to take you to South Beach via the Everglades, that is his business but he’s only getting the $32. If for some reason you are staying north of 63rd Street, you are no longer in South Beach, you are an idiot and you should be charged more than the $37 flat rate. If you are staying north of there you are most likely staying with your grandparents so just have them pick you up. If they are too senile and insist you take a cab, inform them that it will be $37 before 159th Street and $52 after. But at this point you are not really on Spring Break, you are on a family visit. So the rest of this Spring Break Guide is useless to you. Try searching “elder care” at the bottom of the page and you’ll probably get what you are looking for.


If you fly into Fort Lauderdale, just spend the week in Fort Lauderdale.  The cab ride to South Beach and back will be roughly the cost of a hotel room and smell a lot worse. Orbitz may tell you they are in the same “area” but at $2.20 a mile it may as well be in a different time zone. If you do make the mistake of flying into Broward County, do yourself a favor and split a private car with your friends. It actually ends up being cheaper than a cab.



So you think you are a discriminating alcoholic and can tell the difference between Grey Goose and Walgreen’s Charcoal Filtered Vodka? Not if you’re on Spring Break, you can’t.  Listen, frat boy, I’ve been bartending on the beach a long time and I don’t believe I have ever poured a Belvedere-and-anything for someone who wasn’t watching me. And do you know how many drinks I’ve had sent back? Zero. Because drunk kids from out-of-town flat-out can’t tell. I know bars in a lot of cities do this, but in South Beach it is the norm and not the exception. Unless you are sipping Johnny Blue, it is a complete waste of your parents’ money to order any type of liquor other than “Well.” You got that? Well. Because that is going to be what you get regardless of what your bill might say. Patron Silver shots? I hope you like your Patron out of a plastic bottle. Every bar does it, so just do yourself a favor and order the cheap stuff no matter how cool you are trying to look. Because you’re going to be hungover either way.


Bartenders, while having a steel trap for a memory when it comes to people who do not tip, somehow develop early onset Alzheimer’s when it comes to the price of a drink. Your first rum and coke may cost you $6. Then for some reason the second is $8. Then the third is $6 again. Then it’s $10. Does anyone ever notice? Not when you’re running a tab you don’t. I once got a bar bill where I had ordered 6 Vodka-Sprites, but somehow only the first was a well drink. After that, according to the bill that is, I was drinking Belvedere, Grey Goose and Absolute. Now, I know as well as you do I was drinking the rot-gut dregs of the well all night, but my receipt told me otherwise. And you know when I noticed? When I woke up hungover the next morning and looked at my Credit Card slip. Always inspect your itemized bill and if you didn’t order top shelf like a moron, you shouldn’t have to pay for it.



Due to our over-abundance of tourists from Europe, South America, Great Brittan and a lot of other places where the word “Tip” is used most often to describe the end of a pencil, many fine dining establishments (such as Johnny Rockets) have instituted what is known as an Automatic Gratuity. They call this a “service charge” in other countries but here we pretty much cut the bullshit and say “guess what? Here’s what you’re tipping your waiter. You don’t like it? Too Bad.” Sometimes stated in Spanish. It helps a server so that Heinrich from Heidelberg does not get up from the table leaving the exact amount for his food and nothing for the waiter. It hurts a server when someone who may have tipped more sees 18% added on to the bill and just leaves it at that. So what do servers do to counter this problem? They do what every other self-respecting Miamian does and cheats tourists out of money.


A favorite technique is giving you an initial bill without the gratuity on it, then running your credit card for the amount including the tip. Then not giving you the original bill, just your credit card slip. If you aren’t checking the amount, you will end up tipping twice. And the kind of service that rates a 36% gratuity is not legal in Dade County.


Another favorite is the credit card imprint over the Auto Grat. Several bars in South Beach, most notably the infamous Clevelander at which you will be spending at least 3 hours a night, will do a rubbed imprint of your card on your credit card slip.  I have known bartenders who will do this imprint over the part of the bill that shows that tip has been included so you cannot read it. Should a bartender do this to you, ask them if tip has been included. If they say no, call a manager and they will be fired. Actually, if you catch any server or bartender trying to hide the auto gratuity call a manager. Those people deserve to lose their jobs.

Now you can always ask a manager to have the auto grat removed if you feel the service has been particularly awful, but this not only makes you look bad and more than likely banned form ever setting foot inside said establishment again, it is also typically more trouble than the $4.86 is worth.


Hookers love Spring Breakers. Should you encounter women like this, KEEP YOUR HAND ON YOUR WALLET AT ALL TIMES.


Many hookers will come up and start touching you while their friend grabs your wallet. Similarly, should you decide to utilize the services of one of our ladies of the night, negotiate the price first and hold on to your money. Do not take off your pants or you will not have ID to get on the plane home. I guarantee it.


Another popular trick among folks living on the beach is to bring a tourist back to their apartment and have him or her leave their purse or wallet in the living room. While said tourist is in the bedroom having a lengthy discussion on Argentine politics, the local’s roommate is going through said purse, removing all cash and credit cards, filing up their gas tank and buying a week’s worth of groceries at Publix.

Local girls here rarely carry more than $6 when they go out since:

  • They know dumb tourist guys will buy them drinks.
  • They know if they go home with someone that they are going to try and rob them.

My advice? If you go home with a local, take your purse or wallet into the bedroom with you and check it before you leave.

Should you be hesitant to go home with a stranger, you may decide to consummate your Spring Break romance on the beach.


While this is a sort of fantasy for some, and extremely messy for all, it is also a spot where thieves lurk waiting for couples to start having sex. While the horny Spring Breakers are going about their business they take the girl’s purse and the guy’s wallet, and the rest of Spring Break is spent worrying more about ID’s than VD’s. Sad, I know. Again, my advice is to never remove your pants if you are a guy and keep your purse in sight if you are a female. And by no means should you ever go skinny dipping unless you have someone to watch your stuff. Because during Spring Break, nine times out of ten it will be gone when you come back.



The funny thing about South Beach, our homeless look pretty normal. They do not seem intoxicated, always have a sad story and are very well-spoken. At least, well spoken for a homeless person which generally means speaking in complete sentences and not screaming at invisible clowns. The point is, while the story about the daughter who he is trying to feed or the bus ticket back to Seattle he is trying to buy is touching, he is just as much of an alcoholic/drug addict as the guy sleeping outside the shelter downtown. The only thing he is trying to feed is his coke habit that the only ticket he’s buying says “Pick 6” on the top. If you really feel like being generous to a South Beach homeless, give him the dregs of whatever drink you have in your hands at the time. Because that’s what they’re really after.



I’m sure whatever travel site you booked your hotel on described your South Beach Hotel room as “spacious, elegant and full of amenities.” This would be true if it were being rented by a family of pygmies. However your typical oversized American frat boy will find roughly enough room for his left leg and half his torso in most South Beach beds. And don’t even get me started on the amount of available floor space. So while you and your three friends may have thought one standard room would sleep four of you for a whole week, it is not feasible unless you push the beds together and can somehow go an entire night without accidentally touching each other. Because that would just be weird. My advice is to arrive early and when you discover your room is roughly half the size of a Turkish prison cell, complain to the desk until they give you an upgrade. Or sleep on the beach.


The Miami Seaquarium may look on the brochure like Sea World South but trust me folks, any theme park that rests within the Dade County borders is not going to be run in a manner to which most Americans are accustomed. You may see fun pictures of people swimming with dolphins when you arrive at the airport, but do not be fooled. The only Dolphins you’re going to be swimming with are drunk pro athletes who occasionally happen to wander into the Ocean late at night with women who they are not married to. I’m not pointing any fingers here, but you know who you are. My point? Avoid the Seaquarium. If you don’t believe me, ask these guys:

I hope I haven’t scared you too much about our fair city. We really are a town full of nice, hard-working people. Nice to your face and working hard to take your money. But all it takes is a little precaution and some beforehand knowledge and you can pretty much avoid the nasty folks trying to dupe you out of your hard-borrowed dollars. Good luck, Spring Breakers. Miami can be a rough city but if you keep your eyes on your wallet and your hand in your pants, you might just come out alright.

Spring Break Visitors Guide:

Related Categories: Miami: Local News, Miami: Travel News,

About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer

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9 Comments on

"7 Travel Tips to Avoid Getting Scammed in Miami"

rich says:

wow!  Coming to miami beach for the wintermusicfest, and was looking for some info on the place. Nice! Sounds borderline hostile, but i’m sure the beach is pretty. Can’t wait , hope I dont get robbed…and nice heads up on the seaquarium. I worked at seaworld a few years back for the summer to see how animals were treated and that was tough. The seaquarium sounds like a few steps above sea world! thanks for the info.

Posted on 03/04/2007 at 9:49 PM

Robles says:

Great tips, I’ll have to keep all of them in mind when I head to South Beach.

Posted on 03/07/2007 at 8:17 PM

Tru K says:

Hey Matt,
I stayed in South Beach for Spring Break last week and had a blast!  I reluctantly stumbeled upon this article before I left for my Spring Break, but managed to forgot everything you wrote.
I encountered almost every situation you described above!  With that being said, my friends and I still had an amazing time.  My first night there, I got kicked out of the Clevelander and then proceeded to get arrested by a police officer because he wouldn’t help me go back inside to find my wallet!  Needless to say I spent a few hours in the Miami Beach jail, and eventually was shipped, via the paddy wagon, off to Dade County Jail for the rest of the evening.  And yes, my wallet was taken immediately because one of my friends went right back in and could not find it.
Fortunately, I brought my passport and had opened a tab right before I got the boot.  So, I had a source of money and a way to get into the bars/clubs so I could spend that money (or I should say spend my credit).  I ended up spending over $1,300 in table service at Opium Gardens and Mangos (I’m glad my credit limit can afford such things, however, my bank account can not).  I was not going to let a little thing like a visit to DCJ ruin my Spring Break!  My trip to jail is a whole other story in itself.
So, my wallet was stolen but nobdoy tried using my debit/credit cards - luckily.  They must have just taken the cash, which sucked because I had over $100.  Two of my buddies also ‘lost’ their wallets!  The first three nights there, three out of four of us ‘lost’ our wallets.  However, the people who ‘found’ their wallets used their debit/credit cards.  One of which was a cab driver and charged over $100 in gas on my friends debit card.  After that I lost my cell phone somewhere, at some point in time.
In the end it was a costly trip, but an unforgettable one nonetheless!  I did end up going to court on three seperate mornings to take care of my arrest.  The DA ended up dismissing the charges!
For those going, you should check out as many places as possible while you’re there.  That was our goal and we had a blast at almost every place.
I also wanted to mention that a hooked tried talking to my buddy and immediately put her hands on his wallet!  Luckily, he wasn’t drunk at the time so he caught her in the act.

Posted on 03/23/2007 at 1:52 AM

E. says:

Ur writing is Funny as hell.
Listen, your scam guide is great. But there are even bigger in your face scams.
Email Me! U will love the inside.

Posted on 05/14/2007 at 1:47 PM

Matt says:

If you are arriving at the Fort Lauderdale Airport you can use the “Go Airport Shuttle” to travel to South Beach in a shared ride van for a flat rate of $18.00. You can find the info at in the transportation section

Posted on 03/16/2008 at 6:26 PM

Kenny T says:

Great post.  Just like you, I am surprised no one knows about the flat rates from MIA.  When people visit, I do tell them about this site  It has flat rates and cab fare estimates.  It’s good for piece of mind.

Posted on 04/06/2008 at 12:12 PM

Amy says:

Dude, I LIVE in Miami Beach and I know that these scams are only for the extremely gullible tourists (like, those who would pay $20 for an umbrella when it;s sprinkling outside). If you’re stupid enough to have a hobo watch your stuff while you go skinny dipping ( I saw a person do it on the beach last night!) then you should not move from your house. All you need to do is find the nice, non-scamming locals (mostly teenagers since we don’t really need your money) and ask for advice. Use common sense, don’t EVER trust he homeless, and watch where the locals go (A.K.A hidden places where the food is at the right price). Follow those three things and you’ll be fine.

P.S: When at the beach during the day, use your bag as a pillow and you’ll never get your stuff stolen unless you sleep like you’re dead. During the night, the jellyfish make the water painful, avoid it. The tourist guides don’t tell about any good stuff and the locals over 30 are trying to get your money. The best beaches are further north, just take the buses, the taxis here seriously suck. And, HAVE FUN. No one likes a paranoid, boring tourist!

Posted on 03/22/2009 at 12:36 PM

Name says:

your scam guide is great. But there are even bigger in your face scams.
Email Me! U will love the inside.

Posted on 04/04/2010 at 4:09 PM

js says:

a way to get into the bars/clubs so I could spend that money (or I should say spend my credit).  I ended up spending over $1,300 in table service at Opium Gardens and Mangos (I’m glad my credit limit can afford such things, however, my bank account can not).  I was not going to let a little thing like a visit to DCJ ruin my Spring Break!

Posted on 04/04/2010 at 4:10 PM

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