The scam costs travelers around $4 billion a year.

By Cailey Rizzo
August 30, 2017
Maruzhenko Yaroslav/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The next time you make a hotel reservation online, be alert. The American Hotel & Lodging Association is warning travelers about an online booking scam that makes around $4 billion per year from nearly 55 million bookings.

Customers may not realize it, but when searching for a hotel online, scam websites are likely to pop up as the first result on Google. When customers use these convincing websites to book a room, they get charged an inflated rate — and their reservation may not even be made.

These websites can genuinely appear to be run by the hotel — from the name in the link to copyrighted images on the page and even the hotel’s logo. If customers don't detect anything shady, they may book online or by calling a 1-800 number.

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When they arrive at the hotel, however, they might learn that they booked through a fraudulent third party website. In some of the worst cases, travelers find that the hotel never received their reservation.

Customers may still be able to get a room — but they are likely to encounter other problems. Those who need handicap access or two double beds may find that the hotel is unable to accommodate their request. Travelers may also be out of luck if they attempt to cancel or change their reservations, and they are unlikely to accrue any rewards points.

This hotel scam profits by charging customers a booking fee — usually around 25 percent — that the hotels would not have applied.

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Travelers who are booking hotel rooms online should double check that they are on the official hotel website before entering any payment information. To tell the difference between a real site and a sham, make note of some of the subtle differences.

Authentic websites, for example, generally have contact information, a privacy policy, and site map located on the bottom of their web page. Customers can also call the hotel directly (not a 1-800 number) and speak to a customer service agent to ensure that their booking is going to the right place.