Gone are the days when booking a hotel room for a vacation takes a lot of time, effort, and money. Thanks to the growth of online platforms, reserving a hotel room is now simpler, cheaper, and easier than ever. You can book a hotel room using your smartphone while sitting in the subway and be able to score the cheapest rate available.
But in line with the great conveniences are huge threats to unsuspecting travelers: the growing number of hotel booking scams, taking advantage of the massive volume of travel searches online. They come in different forms, from rogue websites designed to steal information to misleading booking sites costing you more than you should.
The good news is, there are ways to outsmart these fraudsters and protect yourself from their schemes. When booking a hotel room online, here are 7 tips to keep in mind.
1. Check the website’s URL
The first thing you check when booking a hotel online is the website’s URL. Legit sites start with the characters “https://” with the “s” signifying that the site is secure. There’ll also be a locked symbol beside these characters, in the upper-left side of the bar.
If the website doesn’t have a locked symbol and an “https”, and only “http”, don’t do business there, no matter how authentic they appear.
Also, check if the URL has extra words in the address, like “national reservation center.” Real sites’ URLs are usually as simple as www.hotelbrandname.com.
Never put credentials including your credit card info, password, or any form of identification into it for they’ll be susceptible to theft.
2. Book directly with the hotel
Booking directly through the official hotel website is the safest way to go.
Keep in mind that the top results in the search engine aren’t always the official ones. You might encounter bogus sites, which mirror the look and feel of the real hotel website using logos, copyrighted images, and even similar URLs to pose as a legitimate site. Some might answer the phone, pretending to be a real hotel representative.
Call the hotel directly using the number it provides then ask to speak to the local staff. If you’re having any doubts, ask questions only a true front desk staff would be able to answer. Ask specifics, like how many rooms the hotel has, any nearby local restaurants, stores, and parks, and how far it is from the airport.
3. Use reputable third-party sites
It’s okay to book with third-party websites, whether you’re staying at a local hotel or flying from Asia to a Sydney Parramatta accommodation of your choice. They’re cheaper and more convenient. Just make sure you transact with a popular reputable website.
Beware of third-party booking sites you have never heard of. Never trust an unfamiliar website just because it looks legitimate or it offers better deals than others. Take the extra step to check the company and read online reviews.
4. Use your credit card, not your debit
When making many online purchases, using credit cards is one of the most secure methods.
They generally provide more protection against fraud than debit cards and are more accommodating in recouping your stolen money. That’s something to be thankful for when you fell prey to fraudsters, especially if the scam doubles as a phishing scam.
5. Pay attention to the refund policy
Read the fine print before you agree to a hotel charge on your credit card. Know when you need to pay upfront or when you’re making a non-refundable payment. Beware of sites that charge in full, in advance, and the ones that do all these without your authorization.
Most legit hotels ask for your payment information and charge you when you arrive. Others may also charge a small deposit to reserve the room. Some may offer price breakdown in advice for payment. Either way, you know you’re booking with a trusted source when they transparently communicate when the payment is due.
Take note that most hotels today have refund clauses should you wish to cancel your booking.
6. Get the price breakdown
You have the right to know what you’re paying for until the smallest of centavos. There should always be a clear breakdown of the fees you’re expected to pay, including the additional fees like booking fees, service charges, and local government taxes.
Beware of websites that don’t give you a breakdown of your charges. Scam sites often present net prices to draw you in. They may also make the breakdown harder to locate to prevent potential victims from discovering the ridiculous prices.
7. Know exactly what to look for
Sometimes, search engines help you find your ideal hotel. Sometimes, they lead you somewhere else. One of the most effective ways to avoid becoming a victim is to know exactly what to look for.
Don’t search for broad terms, like “best hotels”, “cheapest rates”, and “best travel deals.” They are the types of searches that lead to the worst offenders among bogus travel websites. Don’t do a last-minute search too.
Plan and know what you truly want ahead of time. This will give you the opportunity to compare options, investigate booking sites, and get a great deal.