Booking Travel Online? Beware of These 4 Scams
'Bait-and-switch' schemes are on the rise for vacationers
Founder Jeremy Gin says he’s seeing “significantly more” bait-and-switch complaints, where consumers think they’re getting one thing and end up getting another. “This kind of practice has been around forever, but it seems to be amping up,” he says.
To be sure, sometimes consumers may feel like they’ve gotten the bait-and-switch trick, when they simply didn’t read the fine print or understand the terms. And not all online reviews of online travel agencies are accurate.
Still, Gin says the concentration of such a high number of complaints about certain bait-and-switch-type issues may mean there’s something shady — sometimes legal and shady, and sometimes not legal — going on with some online travel booking sites. Here are four of the issues he says are on the rise:
1. We have no record of your travel. This happens when a third-party site claims to have booked travel and takes a consumer’s money in payment for that, but the hotel or airline has no record of the site having done this. While this is rare (and usually illegal), it’s happening more often this year than last year, says Gin.
Levin adds that it’s also essential that you pay for travel booked online with a credit card and not a debit card. When you use a debit card ,the money comes right out of your account, but with a credit card, you can typically more easily dispute the charges without having to pay out-of-pocket should the deal turn out to be a scam.
(MORE: How to Combat Hidden Travel Fees)
How to protect yourself: Unfortunately, avoiding this one often comes down to reading the much-dreaded fine print, which many consumers don’t do, says Gin. Even if the site says something like “satisfaction guarantee” or “refunds available,” you still need to read the fine print before booking to fully understand the refund policy.
3. We changed your travel date — and didn’t tell you. Here's how this works: You might book a travel package with the company for a flight on a Monday; the flight would then change times or dates (either because of the airline or because the company wanted to put you on a cheaper flight) and the company would neglect to tell you. “This can create a snowball effect where other parts of the trip get messed up too,” says Gin.
4. That rate you were quoted? We’re upping it. Gin says his site has seen a number of complaints — the second-highest number of online travel complaints, behind sketchy return and refund policies — among consumers burned booking international hotel rooms online. Sometimes this happens because somewhere buried in the fine print, the company notes that if the exchange rate changes in a way that’s not in your favor, you’ll have to pay the difference; sometimes it’s an illegal scam.
Catey Hill is a freelance personal finance writer who has written for Next Avenue, The Wall Street Journal, SmartMoney and Worth.