Don't let your dream vacation turn into your worst nightmare. How to spot -- and avoid -- these 5 common hotel scams.
Sneaky scamsters are everywhere, and even seasoned travellers can be susceptible to their stings and swindles. Here's how to spot - and avoid getting tripped up - by these 5 common hotel scams.
Front desk scam. It has been around for several years, but the front desk scam continues to be popular especially during peak vacation periods, according to the Better Business Bureau.
How does it work? When you arrive at your hotel you give the front desk your credit card to cover all changes to your room. But later, after you settle in, the phone rings and the caller says something to the effect: "This is the front desk, and we came across a problem of your credit card information. Can you please re-read your credit card information and verify the last 3 security digits on the reverse side of your card?"
But of course, it is not really the front desk clerk on the other end of the phone, but a scammer who called the hotel and asked to be put through to your room number. For security reasons, hotel operators are not supposed to transfer a call to a room unless the caller can supply the name of the guest. But experts warn that this precaution is not always honoured, especially during busy peak travel periods.
What to do: If this happens to you, never give out your card number over the phone. Ask for the name of someone to speak to and tell the caller you'll come down to the front desk in the morning to clear up any problems in person. If you discover there is not a problem with your charge card information after all, inform the manager of the attempted scam.
Beachfront or beach-near? You arrive at your destination only to find the lovely seaside hotel you booked is, in fact, not right on the water, but across a busy thoroughfare, or even a block or more away. (Other hotels that sometimes don't live up to their billing are 'airport hotels' that are, in actuality, nowhere near the airport.)
What to do: Avoid being taken by misleading advertising by verifying your hotel's claims before you book using online tools such as TripAdvisor and Google Earth. Also, beach lovers will want to check out a new resource called The Beachfront Club, which lists over 7,000 hotels from around the world that have been verified as true beachfront accommodations. Guests can search by country and city to find their dream hotel that truly is right-on-the-beach.
Getting 'walked'. You arrive at your hotel only to be told it is overbooked and the room you reserved is not available. As compensation, you are offered accommodation at another property that the hotel may or may not claim is comparable in quality. The only trouble is, it's not - and you have been, in industry-speak, officially 'walked-down'.
The reason for the practice, experts say, is simple: pure profit. When a guest is 'walked' the hotel must cover the cost of your new accommodation - and it can save money by sending you to a lesser property and pocketing the difference.
What to do: If this happens to you, don't immediately agree to the alternative accommodation. Instead, politely stand your ground and remind the hotel that you have a guaranteed reservation. Even if you still have to move, chances are that you'll be sent to a better property.
Fake hotel representatives. You've probably heard of the taxi scam, where con artists pose as taxi drivers and then take off with your luggage - or worse, take unsuspecting tourists to a deserted area and then rob or assault them. Similar to this is a scheme where fake hotel representatives meet tourists as they disembark from the plane, train, boat or bus, offering deals on hotel rooms. These scammers may wear a laminated badge, carry a clipboard or even have (fake) brochures. In addition to enticing you with great rates, they'll offer to take you to the hotel at no cost.
As with the taxi scam, you'll put your luggage and wallet at risk, as well as your safety. Alternatively, you'll be delivered to the hotel, only to be told by the clerk that the rate promised has been filled for the evening - but they do have rooms ready for you at a higher rate. If you agree, your 'representative' will earn a hefty tip.
What to do: It's always better to make your own hotel reservations by phone and confirm rates with a credit card. But if you do arrive in a city without a reservation, look for the nearest tourist information office - and avoid the lone representative.
Parking valet worries. Dishonest valets have been known to steal valuables from the vehicles in their charge. Also, many travellers assume their car will be moved into the hotel lot or parking garage, but some hotels may not even have such facilities and your car could get parked on the street. If the meter runs out - or worse, the car gets towed because it was illegally parked - the owner is stuck with the ticket.
What to do: Be cautious of what you leave behind in your car. Also be sure to ask where it will be parked.