Gone are the days when hotel bookings and other reservations for travel are done in person or via phone call. Today, you can secure a slot in a nice, cheap hotel for a vacation one month from now, while wearing your pajamas and socks at 2 AM. Thanks to online booking sites, you can now easily check good availability, compare hotel prices, and reserve the best hotel accommodation in just a few swipes and clicks.
Technology is changing the way people book travel – but digital platforms may also pave the way for fraudsters to do their unscrupulous schemes.
Travel fraud is on the rise – and they are checking into the hospitality industry. Scammers, which often come in the faces of shady third-party resellers, prey on unlucky travelers who wanted nothing but spend a fun yet cost-effective vacation.
To avoid falling for such scams that cost you serious money, read on and watch out for these signs.
1. The “Limited Supply” Tactic
“Two rooms left!”
“Other people are looking at this hotel right now”
Look out for these high-pressure, misleading posts which seemingly force you to book now or never.
Ads like these on a third-party travel booking website could be sneaky marketing tactics, with the intention of digging into your pockets. The truth is while authorized third-party sites are there to sell a portion of a hotel’s rooms, they have no access to their entire inventory. It’s best to call the hotel directly to check their availability.
2. Bogus Hotel Website
It’s safer to book directly with the hotel using their actual website. However, make sure you are accessing the right one. Fraudsters could go an extra mile and use a hotel brand’s name in the URL to mimic the official website’s design.
Avoid booking with sites that contain vague names after the hotel’s name, like “national reservation center” or something, claiming to be the official hotel website or implying to be affiliated with the hotel in any way.
It’s also a must to use a credit card when booking a hotel. Credit cards provide more protection from fraud than debit cards. Should scammers steal your credit card information and money, you can work with the credit company to recoup what you have lost.
3. Unsecured websites
As a guest, you generally give your credit card information over the internet. While you have no control over the hotel security controls, you can do something on your part to avoid identity theft.
Check the URL. Legitimate sites generally start with the characters “https://”, with the “s” indicating the site is secure. Also, there should be a lock symbol located on the upper left side of the search bar.
If the website has no “https” or “locked” symbol, it’s a sign that you should back off. Chances are that you’re transacting with a malicious site that wants nothing but to steal your financial details. Never put secure credentials, including credit card information, password, or any personal identification information, into it.
4. Sneaky Policies
Hotel booking sites should be transparent in communicating when the payment is due. Read the fine print about the hotel’s cancellation or trip change policy. Know when you’re about to make a non-refundable payment.
Be careful with sites that charge for rooms in advance and in full – most legit hotels will receive your payment information and charge you when you arrive or ask for a deposit to hold the room.
Don’t hesitate to ask, especially if you’re having doubts about the website you’re using. Call the contact number provided. Ask to speak to the local staff. Ask real questions only a professional, legitimate front desk staff would be able to answer, like restaurant and attraction recommendations, nearest transportation services, and hotel terms and conditions.
5. Extra Fees
Always look at the total cost breakdown before you pay. There are third-party travel sites which charge you extra fees for reservation or booking in addition to the cost of your hotel room, which takes away the cost-effectivity of using seemingly cheaper third-party booking alternatives.
Take the time to research before booking your hotel online. Browse multiple websites. Read genuine reviews. Compare prices. Oftentimes, you’ll enjoy better value when you opt out of third-party selling sites and book directly with the hotel.
6. Lost Reservations or Requests
If you’re excited about a trip three days from now, learning that your reservation is lost would totally make you throw a fit. Another annoying thing is you learn that your crucial information or requests weren’t relayed by the third-party seller to the hotel. Simple mistakes, like having your name misspelled or having your request for a wheelchair-accessible room disregarded, can create an issue when checking in.
These things are possible to happen if you book through third-party sites especially if they’re not legit.
Make sure to confirm your reservation. Even if you don’t reach out to the hotel while you’re booking, make sure to contact the property prior to checking in. Call or send a short e-mail for confirmation to avoid showing up at the hotel with no reservation on file.