Still need to buy holiday flights or find a room for New Year’s Eve? If you search online, it’s likely that some of the first results will be from online travel agencies and third party booking sites. They may claim that they offer the best deals, and that it’s hassle-free.
Booking your flight or hotel room online through a third party, not the hotel or airline itself, may have advantages. However, there are also risks involved. Although there are many legitimate online booking sites, like those that are BBB Accredited, there are also some bad actors out there that may try to take advantage of travelers.
So far in 2016, consumers nationwide have filed 2,284 complaints with BBB about online travel agencies. This is a 28% increase from last year. Nearly 1,800 complaints had been filed by this point in 2015. The leading cause for complaints are issues with guarantees, followed closely by problems with refunds/exchanges and poor customer service.
Travel and vacation scams are also a problem. So far in 2016, around 260 have been reported to BBB Scam Tracker – with a median loss of $890. Consumers have reported booking hotels through online third party sites and discovering upon arrival that the hotel simply did not exist. Scammers may also attempt to phish consumers by creating fake hotel websites imitating legitimate brands in an attempt to steal personal and financial information.
Follow these seven tips from your BBB to protect yourself when booking a trip online:
- Do your research. The first step when booking through an online site is to check org. When you visit a company’s BBB Business Profile, you can see its rating, complaint history and reviews from past customers. If you’re looking for a booking site to use, check out the BBB Accredited Business Directory for trustworthy businesses that are committed to BBB’s Standards for Trust. Reading about a business online can help you avoid issues that others have dealt with already. If you see the BBB Seal on a website, you should still check that it links back to the company’s BBB Business Profile. Just as it’s easy to steal hotel pictures from a legitimate website, it’s also possible for scammers to steal the BBB Seal.
- Read the fine print. When booking through a third party site, it’s vital that you read the fine print. Consumers are often surprised by unexpected fees and angry about poor policies that were actually stated in the fine print. Make sure to read the cancellation and exchange policies, and be on the lookout for “booking fees” and other charges. It’s also important to check the contact information. Consider it a red flag if you can only contact the business through email and there’s no listed phone number.
- Double check the URL. Rogue sites may use URLs that are very similar to legitimate hotel, airline or booking site’s URLs. Double check the URL, hover your mouse over links and make sure the spelling and grammar is correct. This can help you avoid getting scammed.
- Use a credit card. In case something does go wrong, it’s best to use a credit card. A credit card may offer more protection than a debit or prepaid card.
- Watch out for too-good-to-be-true deals. You may stumble across a third party booking site offering unbelievably low prices. Be careful – this may be a sign that something fishy is going on. Don’t click on online ads or links in unsolicited emails advertising great deals. It may be phishing.
- Call the company directly. To be extra safe, call the hotel or airline directly to confirm your reservation. You can make sure that the third party site properly booked your accommodations, and also alert the company about any special needs or specific requests you may have.