The Hotel Booking Scam You Definitely Need to Know About

It affects nearly one in four American travelers—don't be one of them!

Credit-cardLDprod/Shutterstock If you think a hotel booking scam isn’t something that could affect you—think again. A whopping 55 million online hotel booking scams occurred in 2016. What that translated to is even more shocking—nearly $4 billion in misleading bookings! These figures come from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and reflect 2016 figures, which are more than three times the numbers reported in 2015. That’s right, things are getting worse.

The main problem is that when booking hotels, online consumers are duped by misleading websites designed to look like hotel websites—meaning you think you’re booking direct, but you’re not. Pay very close attention to where you’re booking, third-party sites are often very sophisticated. Be sure not to fall for these other online scams, either.

AHLA says the first thing to do is to check the URL of the site you’re booking on carefully to make sure it starts with https:// (“s” denoting a secure as opposed to http://). Do not book if there is no “s”! Remember when you are putting personal information on the website—like passport and credit card number—it’s imperative that you’re booking on a secure site. If you suspect fraud, immediately contact your bank and/or credit card company. Which brings up another point: always book with a credit versus debit card, so you’ll have more fraud protection. You’ll also want to look at the website name itself. According to the AHLA, fraudulent websites often use vague names like “national reservation center” along with the hotel’s name. Once you make sure your purchase is safe, book your hotel on the least expensive day of the week. 

When in doubt, call the customer service number directly. AHLA recommends asking for recommendations for local restaurants and attractions, basically things only a real hotel (not a third-party call center) would be able to answer. Once you’ve booked, it’s also worth calling the hotel directly or sending them an e-mail to confirm that you do, in fact, have a reservation.

While some of these third-party sites are legitimate sites and you will get your hotel accommodations in the end, you might unknowingly be losing out on other things like loyalist points. Moreover, any special requests you have, like double beds or requesting that the mini fridge be emptied out before you arrive, may never reach the hotel.

Lastly, legitimate hotel sites don’t usually charge in advance, according to AHLA; they take your payment information and charge you when you arrive. If they do charge in advance it’s almost always tied to a special offer/discount. If a site is charging the full payment in advance, that should raise a red flag.

Read on for all the hotel booking secrets you need to know.