HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (BBB) — Thinking about traveling soon? A survey commissioned by the American Hotel and Lodge Association (AHLA) found 23 percent of consumers reported being misled by third-party travel resellers over the phone or online. That translated to 28.5 million hotel stays and over $5.2 billion in fraudulent hotel booking transactions, which caused extra fees, incorrect accommodations and even lost reservations. Before booking a hotel room, consider the following tips from the Better Business Bureau and the American Hotel and Lodging Association:
- Plan ahead. The best hotel deals are often available far in advance. Planning ahead will offer time to research different sites, compare options and amenities, and lock in a good rate, plus it will lower the risk the destination will be all booked up.
- Purchase from the source. Whenever possible, book directly with the hotel or resort, or through the official website of the hotel chain. The arrangements are directly with the business and you are certain of the legitimacy of the reservation. You will also be more likely to get proper credit for loyalty points (if you participate in that hotel’s program).
- Use reputable third-party sources. If you use a travel agency (online or bricks-and-mortar) or a third-party booking site, make sure the site is legitimate. Avoid trusting a website just because it appears legitimate or comes up near the top of online search results.
Be cautious online. Avoid broad internet searches like “best deals” or “cheapest rates.” Broad search terms can sometimes lead to websites that look official but aren’t. Deceptive travel sites often pose as the actual hotel’s website, even using the hotel’s name in the URL, and its logo and copyrighted images throughout the site. Double check the website address before providing credit card information.
- Buy only from secure sites. When buying anything online, look for the lock symbol in the web address to indicate a secure purchasing system. The URL should also start with https (the extra “s” is for secure). Always pay with a credit card, which offers more protection than debit cards, wire transfers, cash, or other payment methods.
- Know the payment and refund policies. Pay attention to the fine print before you sign a contract or click “I Agree.” Will your credit card be charged now, or when you arrive at your destination? Is there a deposit required and is it refundable if your plans change? Are there any change fees if your travel plans need to be adjusted?
No matter how you book, call the hotel a few weeks out to confirm the reservation. This is especially important during big events, conferences, or festivals when all hotel rooms may be booked. If you have any concerns, you’ll get a much better sense of what’s legitimate and what’s not by picking up the phone and asking the right questions. By taking this extra step, you can be sure you are protecting your personal and financial information, your reservation, and your loyalty program points.
- Be alert for travel scams. Watch out for phone calls or letters claiming that you’ve “won a trip” or websites offering prices too good to be true. It’s easy to extend questionable offers like these, but the vast majority of them leave hopeful travelers in limbo – and out money. Learn more about travel and vacation scams at BBB.org/travelscam.
Check BBB.org. No matter how the reservation is booked, research the hotel, travel agency, or online site at BBB.org to make sure they have a good reputation with previous customers. Read the complaints and customer reviews to see how well the company or site has handled previous problems. Look at their business profile to see if they are BBB Accredited.