The internet has made things like booking flights and hotels easier than ever. Getting directions is as simple as plugging an address into your phone, and you can plan an entire trip online.
But as fast as these helpful sites appear, scams follow behind. It can be hard to know which sources to trust and which to avoid.
People want a great deal, but they don’t want to get scammed in the process of booking it.
Luckily, there are some telltale signs that give away a booking site’s legitimacy. When you know them by heart, you don’t have to trust the reviews of random strangers.
These tips will tell you what to look for before handing your credit card number to a booking site.
1. Learn How to Spot Scams in General
Although scammers are getting better at their “jobs,” many of them make the same mistakes. For example, they’ll often have grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, or small changes in the font on their website.
Because people are so quick to grab what looks like an amazing deal on cheap flights, car rentals, and lodging, scammers frequently get away with these mistakes. It’s only after you realize you’ve been had that you see the warning signs that now look so obvious.
If you’ve been scammed in the past, you’re not alone. As recently as 2019, more than 60% of Americans admitted to being a victim of online fraud. However, there’s been years of practice in spotting fraudsters, so now we have more to go on to help us spot these signs early.
Knowing the basic tricks of scam-spotting can help you avoid all scam artists. You can take this knowledge with you when you visit a booking site.
Tips to Avoid Scams
Scammers often gain the trust of their victims by impersonating someone the victim knows. Once you believe they’re who they claim to be, it’s easier for them to get your card numbers, passwords, and other information.
Some signs of a potential scam include:
- Claims that your account has been suspended or breached
- Requests for you to reset your password or pay a fine
- No security certificate on their website the little padlock icon at the beginning of the URL address)
- Only non-secure payment options (Bitcoin, bank transfer, etc., but no option to pay with debit/credit)
- Odd letters/characters/symbols in place of other letters (like “ç” instead of “c”) in the website text
If you’re planning to buy something on a booking website, check out the site’s contact page before you give out your information. There should be a physical mailing address and another form of contact (web form, email address, phone number, etc.).
If you’re suspicious but can’t find any dead giveaways, the next step is to check the domain itself.
Plug the address into the Google Safe Browsing Transparency Report. This lets you know if you can trust the site you’re looking at or not.
You can also make sure the URL is official by looking closely for any unnecessary numbers, letters, or symbols.
Use https://whois.domaintools.com/ to check the age of the domain. If it’s only a few weeks old, there’s a good chance the site isn’t legit. It doesn’t take long for word to get out about scam sites, so scammers abandon their old sites and create new ones all the time.
Always remember, deals that seem too good to be true usually are.
2. Check the Reviews
If you want to know if a booking site is legit, go to the known review sources.
Be careful, though — these might not be the places you think.
You may be surprised to learn that the reviews on popular review sites aren’t always from real users. Some companies pay for positive product reviews.
That’s right, reviews are often part of the scam. The scammer wants those reviews to convince you that their site is legit.
So, you can’t always count on positive reviews.
You can use them to learn if other people have been scammed by a site, though. Obviously, when there are a lot of people posting negative reviews about the product or service, you should probably avoid doing business with that company.
But if there are a lot of glowing praises and not too many complaints, you’ll need to look further.
Other Sources of Travel Site Reviews
Social media pages are one of the best ways to check up on a business. If their page is brand new, barely used, or full of bad reviews, stay away!
Some other popular travel business review sites include:
If you can’t find the site you’re looking for on any of these lists, that’s a big red flag. It could be that the business is too new, in which case, you don’t want to be the one working the bugs out for them. Even worse, the site may be owned by a fly-by-night company looking to take your money and run.
Legitimate companies want and encourage feedback from their consumers. Any business older than six months should show up on at least one of these review sites.
3. Learn the Signs of Hotel Booking Scams
Booking scams are becoming so rampant that even the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning travelers to be on the alert.
Millions of fraudulent bookings are made each year, and this number is on the rise. As people turn to search engines to do all their work (be honest, do you really want to pick up the phone and call someone when you can get the job done online?), scams are skyrocketing.
No one minds spending hours scouring websites, as long as it means they get the best travel deals. But if you’re going to do this, you need to know how to watch for sketchy sites and scammers.
Signs You Might Be on a Scam Hotel Booking Site
There are a lot of third-party websites that aren’t linked to the hotels they market at all. This is fine, since most well-known booking sites are built to show you most of the hotels in the area so you can find the deals.
But some sites try to copy the overall look of a major chain’s site and will trick you into clicking on theirs instead of the real site.
Before you book a room, look for warning signs, like:
- A blurry or unofficial logo
- Prices that seem a little too low, even for a great deal
- URLs that aren’t straightforward (such as hotels4u.123.com)
- An HTTP URL instead of an HTTPS URL (the “S” shows that the link is secure), especially on the checkout page
It only takes a few seconds to scan the page for these telltale warnings that you’re about to be the victim of a travel scam. Those few seconds can save you days or weeks of the hassle of trying to get your money back or having to rebook elsewhere.
4. Call the Destination Directly or Book Through a Company With a Solid Reputation
You can always call the hotel, airline, or other sources directly at the 800 number on their official website. But, booking through a third-party travel company is often the best way to get a deal and combine all your travel needs into one place.
If you do this, use a legitimate service like HotelEngine.com (for business trips) or a tried-and-tested online travel agency (for personal trips).
A lot of savvy travelers prefer going through these companies because they know what they’re doing. You don’t have to stress the details.
Working with a legitimate booking company gives you benefits like:
- If anything goes wrong in the booking process, you may be entitled to a full refund or dedicated 24/7 customer support.
- The booking company verifies the cancellation policies for you.
- If there are any pandemic restrictions, you’ll know ahead of time.
- You get the booking details and booking number right away.
- They can advise you on the best travel insurance.
If you use a booking site, remember to set yourself up for a seamless check-in process. Call the hotel directly before your trip to let them know you’re on the way, especially if you might be late getting there. Ensure that you call the front desk. The number on the booking site or in the confirmation email may be a corporate number.
Always watch for hidden costs, like “resort fees,” cleaning charges, or any other surcharges that pop up right before you pay.
Most hotels have a 24- or 48- hour “free cancellation” policy, too. It’s common for them to charge you a full or partial rate if you don’t cancel within that time frame, but you should be aware of this.
5. Get an Email Confirmation
You’ve gone through all the steps and you’re almost positive the hotel booking site is a real service. Before you hang up from your phone call or exit out of the tab, look or ask for an email confirmation.
Legitimate sites usually have an automated process for this. If you don’t get a confirmation within a few hours, follow up with the source of your reservation to verify they received it.
If the worst possible scenario happens and they have no idea what you’re talking about, it’s okay. You caught it early enough that now you have plenty of time to call your bank and dispute the charge. They can flag the transaction and cancel it.
Some banks will go as far as requesting an investigation into the company itself. You could be saving other travelers from the hassle of dealing with a scam site because you were on the ball!
As you’re scrolling through search engine results in the quest to book your travel itinerary, you’ll probably wonder about the legitimacy of the websites you end up on.
You’re not the only one. The question “Is Trip.com legit?” gets 400 searches every month. “Is Booking.com legit?” is searched over a thousand times monthly.
If you ever doubt the veracity of a booking website, follow our guidelines above. You’ll find that you start watching for scams and avoiding fishy sites any time you’re shopping online.
As you grow confident in your prowess as a scam-spotter, you’ll be able to confidently net the best deals in your future travels.
Hotel Engine can help you save up to 60% off business lodging. Sign up here!