These days, travel planning starts on the internet. But as you research destinations online and comb travel sites for savings on lodging and flights, keep a sharp eye out for deceptive offers and outright scams that could cost you a bundle.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 53,891 reports of travel-related scams (including timeshare scams) in 2021, costing consumers $95 million — though the real numbers are likely far higher. Experts believe scams of all sorts are grossly underreported.
Be especially wary when using third-party hotel booking sites. According to a 2019 survey conducted for the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), nearly a quarter of consumers reported being misled by travel resellers on the phone or online, affecting $5.7 billion in transactions in 2018.
Unscrupulous resellers draw consumers through search engine ads and send them, via links or posted phone numbers, to booking websites or call centers that appear to be affiliated with a hotel. The look-alike site will feature detailed descriptions of rooms and amenities; it might even have the hotel’s name in its URL. But you are not actually dealing with the hotel. This can have consequences ranging from inconvenient (the reseller doesn’t transmit special requests, such as a wheelchair-accessible room) to expensive (higher rates than the hotel actually charges or hidden fees tacked on to your bill) to potentially trip ruining (you arrive and discover the booking was never made).
The AHLA includes a warning about these scams on its website, encouraging consumers “to book directly through the hotel website or mobile app, or through a trusted travel agent.”
There’s plenty more to look out for. For example:
- Criminals operate look-alike websites for airlines, popular travel companies, tourist visa procurement, and federal Trusted Traveler programs like TSA PreCheck to harvest personal data from people who believe they're booking tickets or signing up for smoother airport screening.
- Scam emails offer promotions such as free flights to get you to give up credit card information or click links that download malware.
- Bogus insurance brokers sell travel policies they falsely claim will cover coronavirus-related cancellations.
- Scammers make up vacation-rental listings, or duplicate real ones, to collect payments for nonexistent bookings.