- Hotel scams cost Americans nearly $US4 billion a year.
- By booking directly with your hotel or using a travel agent, you can avoid many of the worst scams out there.
- We asked experts to describe seven of the worst hotel scams customers fall for.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Hundreds of new hotels pop up around the world each year.
With so many choices, the risk of getting scammed has never been higher.
According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, fraudulent bookings cost US consumers $US3.9 billion a year. If you want to avoid contributing to that statistic, you should train yourself to recognise the hallmarks of the most devious hotel scams.
While using a travel agent or booking directly with a hotel and reconfirming with a manager are the best ways to make sure you don’t get taken advantage of, with some diligence, you can ensure you get the room you wanted for the price you agreed on.
Here are seven of the worst scams you might encounter when booking a hotel.
Some hotels add staggering hidden fees to your bill
No one likes hidden fees, whether it’s for a concert ticket or a hotel room.
Unfortunately for consumers, hidden fees are legal and, in some cities, unavoidable.
In Las Vegas, for example, it’s a longstanding tradition for hotels to add a hefty “resort fee” to your bill, meaning a $US60 room can actually cost upward of $US100, according to Jeff Russell, an entertainment travel consultant at Aspen Travel.
Some hotels, unable to claim “resort” status, have rolled out “amenity fees,” he said. These mandatory daily charges supposedly pay for their pool, fitness center, or dining regardless of whether you actually use the amenities.
In some cities, there are also union-required porterage fees that can add $US10 to $US20 to the room, even if you carry your own bags. Other hotels add a daily fee for dining, again regardless of whether or not the guest eats, or even wants to eat, at the hotel.
These fees allow hotels to advertise lower rates without eating into profits. They’re usually listed in the fine print of your booking agreement, but whenever you’re staying in an upscale city, call the hotel and ask. Otherwise, your final bill could end up hundreds of dollars more than originally expected.
Don’t be duped by an ‘ocean-view’ room that doesn’t actually face the ocean
Most reputable hotels can be trusted to accurately describe the views from the room. However, when paying a great rate for an “ocean-view” room at a lower-priced hotel, you may end up seeing very little ocean. The same holds true for city views.
“‘Ocean view’ simply means you get at least a sliver of a view from somewhere in the room,” Russell told Business Insider. “An oceanfront room actually faces the ocean.”
“If a hotel lists both an oceanfront room and an ocean-view room, know for a fact that the ocean-view will not be looking right out on the ocean,” he said.
Some hotels will at least denote “partial ocean view,” though a glimpse of blue water out of a corner window could count as “partial.”
A good tip when booking a room for the view is to look at price. A room with a full view of the ocean is usually at least $US50 to $US100 more than a standard room, Russell said. For a commanding view of a city, make sure your room is on a high floor.
Some hotels use vague language to describe their rooms
These descriptions are a result of both cultural differences and vague terminology. In some cases, it may be an honest mistake, while in others, language is intentionally left ambiguous to confuse the customer.
The best example is the European double room.
In the US, a double room almost always means a room with two double beds. But in Europe, it could also mean a room with two twin-size beds, like a college dorm, or even a room with just one double bed.
Other issues arise if you try to bring more people than you mentioned in your booking form, like if you book a room under your name but your spouse joins you, or if you book a “family room” but don’t tell somebody at the front desk that you actually need multiple beds.
Russell said he has seen clients who booked their own travel arrive in Europe to find a room type different from what they thought they’d booked. While hotels may even acknowledge the ambiguity, he said he’s “seen them refuse to accommodate their new needs or charge exorbitant fees for adding a person.”
According to Russell, these fees should be somewhere in the fine print. If you have to change room type, though, many hotels will charge you the rate for booking a whole new reservation.
“And they don’t have to do you any favours there,” he said.
Usually you can avoid this by looking closely at the rooms on a hotel’s website. If that fails, call the hotel directly and ask.
If the price seems too good to be true, it might be a scam
A hotel room in New York City, Paris, Tokyo, and other pricey destinations will usually cost more than $US200 a night.
If you find an $US80 room in one of those cities, beware.
“I will rarely, if ever, book a room for my clients in LA for under $US100,” Russell said. “I’ve heard horror stories from tour managers about what those cheap rooms are like. And even if it looks OK online, my experience is that pictures can be rigged, but the price speaks loudly.”
Even looking at the website or reading reviews can be misleading. Pictures can be from sneaky angles, of a model room, or from 1995. And motels can get associates or paid trolls to give positive reviews. That disproportionately low price likely means wet carpets, dirty sheets and glassware, nonfunctional plumbing, mould, or worse.
Sometimes an online search will tell you if the hotel was built in the past five years or recently renovated. The best way to avoid this scam is simply to accept that a stay in a bigger city is going to cost more and stay away from the bargain basement deals.
Some hotels ‘walk’ their guests to a different building
Once you book your hotel room, you’re good to go, right?
According to Russell, a “walk” is when a hotel oversells its rooms and then transfers some of its guests to another hotel. And it happens more often than you’d think.
“Usually they will list whether or not they can walk guests in the fine print of your booking agreement,” Russell said. “But if they’re overbooked and you do have a walk clause, the first people to be walked are ones who booked through a third-party site.”
Keep an eye out for this in your hotel agreement. Booking directly or through a travel agent usually ensures your room won’t get walked. If you do end up being transferred – completely at the hotel’s discretion – hopefully they will walk you to a neighbouring hotel. But there’s no guarantee the new hotel will honour your room type or that it will even be close.
“I’ve seen hotels walk people as far away as, for example, from San Diego to El Cajon,” Russell said. That’s about a 15-mile distance.
3rd-party sites may take your money and run
The online-hotel-booking market is full of sketchy sites that mislead and take advantage of customers at every turn.
A 2018 survey found that 23% of all consumers reported being misled when booking hotels, resulting in nearly $US5.2 billion in fraudulent transactions.
Many of these third-party sites offer suspiciously cheap rates for rooms, but they’re really just taking your money and running. The customer likely won’t find about the scam until they show up with a confirmation that either isn’t in the system or is for a room type different from the one the site actually reserved.
According to Chad Schyvincht, the area manager for Viceroy Hotels, San Francisco, third-party bookings are the primary cause of complaints and problems at check-in. Because many booking sites reserve the cheapest rooms possible, “guests who book on third-party sites will normally get the worst rooms in the hotel and be the first ones to get walked.”
And others will trick you into thinking they’re a legitimate site — and then steal your identity
One of the most devious scams is run by predators who trick customers into thinking they’re on a legitimate booking site.
Online thieves build sites with similar URLs to industry leaders’ but with a slight typo – for example, “Travelacity” instead of Travelocity. Or they use Greek letters that resemble letters in the English alphabet in the URL.
These false storefronts look like the real deal. You can book a room, and they will generate a confirmation. But in reality, they have just stolen your personal information and credit-card number.
“Some 55 million online hotel bookings are affected by fraudulent websites and call centres posing as hotel websites,” according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
Falling for this scam means that showing up to your hotel without a reservation will be the least of your problems – your stolen credit card and identity are the bigger concerns. In most cases, you have little to no recourse except to cancel your cards and monitor your credit score.
This is a standard but highly effective phishing scam. How do you avoid it? Be extra vigilant when using third-party booking sites. The best way to avoid these scams altogether is to book through your hotel directly or through a travel agent.
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