Booking travel online offers lots of perks — the ability to compare prices and scour online reviews among them. But it also comes with some risks. And recently, certain scams that target consumers booking travel online have been popping up more and more.
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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:
First off, he says, try to only book with reputable companies whose names you’ve heard of (they often appear at the top of Google search results for travel, he says) — and even then, search their name plus the words “scam” and “review.” “You’ll find a lot of forums where people talk about companies,” he says, including consumer-advocacy sites like RipOffReport.com and PissedCustomer.com. If you see a lot of negative reviews for a company, proceed with caution.
Siciliano also recommends looking up third-party companies on the Better Business Bureau and opting for ones with a B+ or higher rating.
Adam Levin, co-founder and chairman of identity management company Identity Theft 911, says you may also want to ask friends for recommendations of online travel agencies (be sure you type in the URL they gave you correctly, though, as some scammers set up sites that look like real travel agencies but are one letter off in the URL). He adds that “if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is,” so don’t book with that company unless you have vetted it.
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It happens when a consumer believes (rightly or because she was led to believe it by the company or otherwise) that the online travel booking site has a certain refund or return policy, when in fact it has no returns or requires a steep fee to change or cancel a trip.
Then, "if a consumer decides to change or cancel the trip, they will lose their money entirely or be charged an exorbitant fee,” Gin explains. “Consumers are used to airlines where you pay about $100 to change flights so this really surprises them.”
Siciliano notes that you may be protected from this issue if you book using your credit card, which sometimes offers travel insurance as an added perk.
Second, says Siciliano, make sure you use your credit card to book; in particular, he says, consider using an American Express card, since the company often will put pressure on merchants it believes are using shady practices.
Catey Hill is a freelance personal finance writer who has written for Next Avenue, The Wall Street Journal, SmartMoney and Worth.
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