According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), there are an estimated 480 hotel bookings made online per minute. And while it’s convenient, and often appears to be a good deal, the group says there are some “serious concerns” that consumers need to be aware of when it comes to booking travel accommodations online.
A recent survey for the AHLA found that 6% of travelers who booked a hotel room online later discovered they had used a fake site. The group estimates 15 million hotel bookings have been made on rogue websites — scamming $1.3 billion from consumers per year.
The BBB and the Federal Trade Commission are now issuing warnings about this increasingly costly problem.
How the scams work
The problem is that these fake booking sites can look just like real hotel booking sites.
According to the BBB, fake sites use real hotel sites’ logos, designs and photos to fool users into thinking they’re doing business directly with the real company or hotel. The URL may include the name of the real hotel, and some groups even have staffers available to answer calls made to the number on the website — ready to give you enough information to convince you to book and still hide the fact that you aren’t booking through the real hotel website.
Read more: The best travel booking websites
Plus, booking a hotel on your smartphone can make it even more difficult to spot the real players from phony sites.
According to the AHLA, here’s what consumers experienced in scams by rogue booking sites:
- 32% got a room that was different than expected
- 17% were charged unexpected or hidden fees
- 15% didn’t get their promised reward points
- 14% were charged an extra booking fee
- 14% couldn’t get a refund for a cancelation
- 9% had reservations lost or canceled
- 3% had their identity or personal information stolen
Read more: Clark’s Travel Booking & Planning Guide
Tips for avoiding online booking scams
So if the fake sites look just like real ones, how can you avoid them? The BBB is urging consumers to be mindful of certain indicators of fake sites when booking accommodations online.
Here are a few things to look out for and some tips from the AHLA for avoiding potential scams:
- Beware of where you book: Make sure you know exactly who you are dealing with, because these third party vendors often make promises they cannot keep, and you won’t find out until you arrive at your destination — out of luck.
- Book direct: To ensure you’re dealing with the real hotel, you should book directly with the hotel either online or by phone to avoid being scammed.
- Check the URL: If you book online and aren’t sure whether the site is legit, check with the BBB to find out if the URL is in fact associated with the real company you want to be dealing with.
- Only use trusted sites: Even though a hotel’s name may be part of the URL, it could still be a rogue site. Double check the website address to ensure it’s not a third-party vendor.
- Call the hotel: Even if you book online, always call the hotel directly. Here are a few questions the AHLA suggests you ask to ensure you protect your information, your reservation, your points and your credit information:
- What is the cancelation/trip change policy? Most of these third party booking sites don’t allow cancelations, changes, or any sort of refunds.
- Is the site, in any way, affiliated with the hotel? If no, your points may not be honored.
- Is it a secure payment site? The URL should have a small lock and should start with https:// as opposed to just http://.
If you’ve been a victim of a hotel booking scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission to alert them about the issue. Go to ftc.gov/complaint to file a complaint.