Travel smart: eliminate online booking scams

A host of online booking sites make finding the right accommodation convenient and affordable, but beware of sharks in the water.

Just because a site appears at the top of search results does not mean it is legitimate. Under the guise of lots of traffic and claims that there are only one or two rooms left with lots of people watching, the pressure is on and the bait is on.

Online travel agency (OTA) scam sites with similar hotel logos, screenshot images, and web addresses convincingly close to the real thing can entice unassuming vacation planners to looking for the best possible offer.

In November, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) reported that approximately 55 million deceptive online hotel reservations each year earned unsuspecting buyers $3.9 billion (US).

In partnership with AHLA, the Better Business Bureau publishes a list of hotel booking tips on its website to help consumers avoid the lure of so-called “rogue sites.”

Canadians aren’t immune to online scams, so it’s wise to do some research by checking customer reviews via Facebook, Google, TripAdvisor and elsewhere and ask yourself why a site’s offering is better. than others, including the hotel’s website.

“The best way to make sure your reservation is real and to get the best price is to book directly with the hotel,” suggests Susie Grynol, president of the Hotel Association of Canada.

“Many hotels, through their loyalty programs, offer a guaranteed best rate that cannot be beaten on any online platform,” she adds.

With the boom in online booking and an ever-increasing number of new websites, many hotel chains have joined the direct booking bandwagon in their industry.

Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and others compete directly with OTAs by offering discounted member rates, loyalty points, free nights, room upgrades and other benefits not offered by secondary and third-party sites .

Some major hotel chains have even considered severing ties with online hotel booking sites that charge up to 20% for directing business to hotels.

While OTA sites continue to be immensely popular, most people look there, but also check hotel sites. AHLA estimates that the average person visits seven to ten sites, with 56% of people who have booked rooms online preferring to do so through the hotel they want to stay at rather than through other sites.

JD Power’s 2017 North American Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index survey found that people booking through OTA sites or mobile apps are more likely to experience issues with their reservations and be less satisfied with their stay than if they booked directly with their hotel.

Hotels and booking sites have 24/7 customer service contacts to handle customer complaints, but when booking through a secondary or third-party site, one must rely on the customer service of that OTA to resolve issues with the hotel.

Price drop alert sites have grown in popularity in recent years, and many monitor prices and notify their users of ever-better deals on hotels, flights, and car rentals.

Recently expanding its service to Canada, Pruvo caters to people who have already booked their rooms, but only with reservations that offer free cancellation options.

It’s not a site we’ve used or endorsed, but it has recently received rave reviews from Facebook users.

“Studies show that the price of your reservation will drop 40% of the time after you make your reservation,” says Doron Nadivi, Pruvo’s chief marketing officer. “The most incredible part is that the price can drop up to 67% of the original booking amount.”

“No matter how much time and effort you invest in finding the best deal, your reservation will most likely experience a price drop between the booking date and check-in.

“Pruvo is a free online service that will track these price drops and notify the user once a better deal has been found for the same hotel room on a different website,” Nadivi adds.

Sites like HotelsCombined, TINGO, a TripAdvior company, Waylo, Yapta and others also offer price alerts on accommodation, airfare and car rentals.

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