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Travel Scams

En español | These days, travel 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 nearly 35,000 reports of travel-related scams in 2019, costing consumers $105 million. Yet an AARP poll that year found that less than 40 percent of travelers, and only about a quarter of those ages 50 and up, are concerned about booking scams when planning trips.

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 report being misled by travel resellers on the phone or online, affecting $5.7 billion in transactions in 2018 alone.

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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 lookalike 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).

There’s plenty more to look out for. Crooks also operate lookalike websites for airlines and popular travel companies. 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. Fraudsters make up vacation-rental listings, or duplicate real ones, to collect payments for nonexistent bookings. 

Warning Signs

  • A cut-rate hotel or airline offer that seems too good to be true.
  • A hotel, airline or travel website has odd spelling or grammatical errors, suggesting it may have been created by a scammer in a foreign country.


  • Do book on the official website of a hotel, airline or other travel business, or use a reputable third-party booking site.
  • Do carefully check a travel website’s URL. Scam sites may use “domain spoofing” tricks such as an extra letter in the address.
  • Do look for written policies on canceling or modifying reservations, and confirm them before booking.
  • Do call the hotel or airline and confirm your reservation after booking on a travel website. If they don’t have a record of your booking, that may signal a problem that it’s best to solve well before you travel.
  • Do be skeptical of pitches for travel insurance that cover cancellations due to COVID-19. Most standard travel policies do not cover pandemics or viral outbreaks, according to the industry-led Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. 


  • Don’t trust a travel website just because it has a familiar logo or comes up near the top of search results. Many scam sites mimic major travel companies’ branding.
  • Don't book on an unfamiliar travel site until you've checked it out. Search for the company's name plus words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam” to see if other consumers had bad experiences with the site, and look it up in the Better Business Bureau's database.
  • Don’t click on links in emails with travel promotions like free airline tickets or warnings that your hotel loyalty points are about to expire. Mouse over the link to check whether it goes to a legitimate travel site.
  • Don’t pay for travel with a debit card. Use credit cards, which offer better fraud protection.

About the Fraud Watch Network

Whether you have been personally affected by scams or fraud or are interested in learning more, the AARP Fraud Watch Network advocates on your behalf and equips you with the knowledge you need to feel more informed and confidently spot and avoid scams.

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Updated September 28, 2020


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