As the number of online hotel reservations continues to rise, so does the rate of booking scams.
A study published in 2015 by the American Hotel & Lodging Association found that approximately 15 million hotel reservations are affected by deceptive affiliates each year. This translates to approximately $1.3 billion in false bookings per year.
The study, which was conducted by GfK Custom Research, included 1,1017 interviews conducted with adults aged 18 and over.
Fraudulent websites and call centers often imitate an affiliation with a certain hotel, when in fact they are unrelated.
These scams often result in totally lost reservations, undisclosed credit card charges, incorrect accommodations, lost reward points, or fake reservations.
Here’s a full breakdown of the study’s findings:
- 32% of people got a different room than they expected
- 17% of people have been charged unexpected or hidden fees
- 15% of people did not get their loyalty points
- 14% of people were charged additional booking fees
- 14% of people were unable to get a refund for a cancellation
- 9% of people had lost or canceled reservations
- 3% of people have had their identity or private information stolen
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid getting caught in a scam.
The safest way is to book directly on the hotel’s website. Third-party sites can show you a good variety of options, which you can use as a guide to finding the hotel that’s right for you and then booking it on that hotel’s site.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association also recommends watching out for sites that say there is an immediate urgency on the number of rooms remaining, primarily in an effort to speed up the reservation process. This could be a red flag.
You should also be wary of websites that don’t allow you to click through to see details of your charges or that make this information difficult to locate.
Typically, when you book direct with the hotel, you have the option to click through and see a clear breakdown of the additional charges you will need to pay.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association also recommends using only trusted sites. Sites that have the hotel 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 trip cancellation/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 listed in company advertisements.
Whenever you book through a third-party site, be sure to read the details carefully, as fees and surcharges can sometimes be hidden in the fine print or behind vaguely labeled hyperlinks.
Finally, keep in mind that when typing a hotel name into a search engine, the first result that appears may not always be the official result, as some third-party bookings pay to be first. on the results page.
In response to growing concerns over the issue, the Stop Online Booking Scam Act was introduced in February. If passed, the bill will require all third-party hotel booking websites to clearly state that they are not affiliated with the hotel. It will also allow a state attorney general to prosecute the perpetrators in federal court.
Finally, the bill would require the FTC to report on the impact of these fraudulent websites on consumers, as well as encourage them to simplify the process of filing a claim on their website.