55 million. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), that is how many online hotel booking scams occur each year. With the convenience and increasing number of online reservation sites, hotel booking scams are becoming more frequent. One in four American travelers have reported booking on what they thought was a hotel website but later find out it was another site, according to AHLA.
Many of these scams occur through third party sites where scammers create links that appear as if they are associated with a legitimate hotel. This is a frightening reality, especially if you’re like us and travel often.
While this might make trip planning even more stressful, we have a few simple tips that can help protect yourself against these booking scams:
Inspect the booking site’s URL. When you enter a hotel booking site, make sure you carefully look at the website address. Legitimate hotel sites typically begin with the characters “https://” with the “s” signifying a secure site. Websites that have a URL beginning with just “http://” and do not have a lock symbol in the upper left-hand side of the search bar, usually aren’t secure. You never want to place credit card or personal information on these unsecure sites since it is more vulnerable to theft.
Another thing to keep an eye on is if the URL has an odd name after the hotel’s name. This is a trick that scammers will use, hoping to fool someone into thinking the site is secure since the hotel name is in the actual URL.
Lastly, check out the site completely. If the site appears to be unprofessional or has broken links within it, there’s a good chance it isn’t a legitimate website. Official hotel websites are usually very professional and easily navigated.
Nonrefundable payments. One thing you should always be wary of is a site that charges in full for rooms in advance. Most hotels will take your credit card information but won’t charge you until you check-in at the beginning of your stay. Some hotels will even offer a price-break if you pay in advance, but it is very rare for a hotel to require you to pay for the room in full when you make the reservation.
Some other things to keep in mind regarding payment-
- Always use a credit card! This is extremely important because credit cards offer more fraud protection than debit cards. If you are a victim of a scam, your credit card company will usually work with you to recoup your stolen money.
- When you are booking a hotel, the site should clearly communicate when payment is due. If the site does not do this, it is a red flag.
Ask questions. With the frequency of hotel booking scams, asking questions can never hurt. You are always better off safe than sorry. If you ever have any doubts or suspicions about a site you are using, call the customer service number and ask to speak to a local staff member at the hotel. You should ask questions that only local front-desk workers would know the answer.
Here are some examples of questions you can ask:
- What are some good local restaurants?
- What are some of the most popular attractions nearby?
Even if you don’t call when booking, you should call the hotel before you arrive to confirm your reservation. This will avoid the dilemma of showing up with a packed suitcase but no reservation or place to stay.
While the threat of hotel booking scams is alarming, if you follow the above steps you will be better protected and have one less thing to worry about when planning a trip. Have another helpful tip to avoid hotel booking scams? Drop it in a comment below and we’ll share it throughout our channels!