If you’re like me, Western Washington’s recent weather might have you thinking about a vacation somewhere warm. And while it may feel far away, it’s not too early to start thinking about summer travel.
Booking your flight or hotel room online through a third party, not the hotel or airline itself, has advantages. However, Better Business Bureau Northwest and Pacific reminds shoppers there also are risks involved.
In 2017, consumers nationwide filed more than 2,600 complaints with BBB Scam Tracker about online travel schemes and scams. The number of filed complaints involving travel has steadily increased over the past several years. The leading cause for complaints are issues with guarantees, followed closely by problems with refunds/exchanges and poor customer service.
Consumers have reported booking hotels through online third-party sites only to discover upon arrival that the hotel did not exist. Scammers also may attempt to lure consumers by creating fake hotel websites imitating legitimate brands in an attempt to steal personal and financial information.
Follow these tips from BBB to protect yourself when booking a trip online:
▪ Read the fine print. When booking through a third-party site, it’s vital that you read the fine print. Consumers often are 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. Fake sites may use URLs that are very similar to legitimate hotel, airline or booking site 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, which 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.
▪ 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.
For more consumer tips and the latest scam alerts, download the BBB App at bbbapp.org. Anyone who feels they may be a victim of a cybercrime should report it to local law enforcement and BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker.
Lauren Hall is the Western Washington marketplace manager for the Better Business Bureau based in DuPont. Reach her with consumer-related questions at email@example.com.