Online travel booking has revolutionized the way we plan our getaways, however, Connecticut Better Business Bureau warns if you don't do your research, you can easily become the victim of fraud.
Flights and accommodations can easily run into many thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, the internet is fraught with fake travel booking websites, hidden fees, and other unethical business practices. With the amount of money at stake for a getaway package, it's worth it to deal only with well-known and reputable travel booking sites.
Nationally in 2015, BBB received more than 157,000 complaints about travel agencies and bureaus. The industry was ranked the 15th most complained-about type of business last year, nonetheless, many millions of consumers are extremely satisfied with the convenience and deals. The downside is that the online booking business has proven to be fertile territory for criminals.
"We are all looking for the best possible price," according to Connecticut Better Business Bureau spokesman, Howard Schwartz. "The problems arise when we are lured to an unethical travel booking website that offers an unusually low price, or when we don't carefully read all terms and conditions."
There are fly-by-night operators and online booking businesses that are at best, incompetent, and at worst, criminal. Some consumers pay in advance for a travel package that never materializes. Victims may not find out until they arrive at the airport or resort and find out that the package was never booked.
In a recent blog post, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) acknowledged unethical third party brokers deceive consumers by illegally using photos and logos of well-known hotels and resorts. The FTC says "Just because a website looks like the official site of your favorite hotel chain doesn't necessarily mean it is. Before you reserve a room make sure you know who's at the other end of that 'BOOK NOW' button."
Consumers also complain about some travel brokers who do not disclose hidden fees that raise the cost of a package beyond the posted price.
Connecticut Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to get the best travel deals while protecting yourself from fraud and poor business practices:
- Book your travel package with a reputable business- Visit bbb.org to see what other consumers' experiences have been like with a prospective travel broker or to select one from the BBB Accredited Business Directory.
- Use a credit card — You can dispute a charge if a problem arises or you are defrauded, but make sure you keep your paperwork in order and take copies of all reservation and payment documents with you before heading to the airport.
- Dig deep into the fine print — Can you cancel the booking? On some unethical third party sites, you cannot, or you may be hit with an exorbitant penalty for doing so. Look for any fees or surcharges within the terms or hidden behind vaguely labeled hyperlinks.
- Don't click right away — Questionable websites often show up in the form of paid ads in an online search. The sites' prices might be attractive, but is the broker ethical?
- Be wary of deals that are uncharacteristically inexpensive — There is a reasonable spread in prices between various sites, however, be skeptical if you are lured by a deal that is considerably lower than legitimate competitors.
- Call the hotel or resort directly — Check to see whether there might be any undisclosed fees, and to make sure that the site has properly booked the accommodations, especially if you have special needs, and to make sure any other specific requests have been taken care of.
If you fall victim to a fake travel website fraud, call your credit card company and contact the Federal Trade Commission, at FTC.gov. If you have a dispute with an established travel broker, file a complaint with Better Business Bureau.