As the number of online hotel bookings continues to increase, so does the rate of booking scams.
A study released in 2015 by the American Hotel & Lodging Association found that around 15 million hotel bookings are affected by deceptive rogue affiliates each year. That translates to roughly $1.3 billion going to fake bookings annually.
The study, which was conducted by GfK Custom Research, included 1,1017 interviews conducted among adults age 18 and over.
Fraudulent websites and call centres will often mimic an affiliation with a certain hotel, when they in fact have no relation.
These scams often result in wholly lost reservations, undisclosed credit card charges, incorrect accommodations, lost rewards points, or false reservations.
Here is a full breakdown of the study’s results:
- 32% of people got a room that was different than what was expected
- 17% of people were charged unexpected or hidden fees
- 15% of people did not get their rewards points
- 14% of people were charged an extra booking fee
- 14% of people could not get a refund for a cancellation
- 9% of people had reservations lost or canceled
- 3% of people had their identity or private information stolen
Thankfully, there are some steps you can take to avoid getting caught in a scam.
The safest way is to book directly through the hotel’s website. Third-party sites can show you a good variety of options, which you can use as a guideline to find the hotel that works best for you, then book it on that hotel’s own site.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association also recommends watching out for sites that say there’s an immediate urgency on the number of rooms left, mostly in order to rush the booking process. This could be a red flag.
You should also be wary of websites that don’t allow you to click in to see a breakdown of your fees, or that make this information difficult to locate.
Typically, when you book directly through the hotel, you’ll have the option to click in and see a clear breakdown of any additional fees you’ll be expected to pay.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association also recommends only using trusted sites. Sites that have a hotel’s name as part of the URL could still be a third-party vendor stealing a hotel’s identity.
When you see a viable option, call the hotel directly and ask them the following:
- What is the cancellation/trip change policy?
- Is the site, in any way, affiliated with the hotel?
- Is it a secure payment site?
The Federal Trade Commission recommends using either the toll-free number or URL provided on your rewards card, or the one that is featured in the company’s ads.
Anytime you do book through a third-party site, be sure to read the details carefully, since fees and surcharges can sometimes be hidden in the fine print or behind vaguely labelled hyperlinks.
Finally, keep in mind that when you type a hotel name into a search engine, the first result that pops up might not always be the official one, since some third-party reservations pay to be the top spot on the results page.
In response to growing concerns on the issue, the Stop Online Booking Scam Act was introduced this February. If passed, the bill will require all third-party hotel booking websites to clearly disclose that they are not affiliated with the hotel. It will also allow a state attorney general to go after perpetrators in federal court.
Finally, the bill would require the FTC to produce a report on the impact of these fraudulent websites on consumers, as well as encourage them to simplify the process for reporting a claim on their website.
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