As smart as we all are about buying vacation packages online, it’s even smarter to refresh our “scam” antennae every once in awhile about new ripoffs.
Booking online seems so simple — you search for the lowest rates, you click, and you’re on your way. But being your own travel agent isn’t as easy as it might seem, according to ShopSmart magazine from Consumer Reports.
The consumer advocates at Consumer Reports have shared a list of six common travel website “gotchas” — those deceptive leading sales pitches that amount to plain old ripoffs.
Most probably sound familiar but there’s always a new twist, so reading about how to avoid them should make life easier.
Common Gimmicks That Can Cost You Extra
We bet that most of these scenarios sound familiar, maybe too familiar. Remember to read the fine print regarding any online purchase (travel related or not), keep copies of all payment confirmations, and use a credit card that will support you if you need to dispute charges.
1. Fare Jumping: You click on a great deal, and the site says it’s no longer available.
ShopSmart magzine from Consumer Reports found a flight on Expedia from Miami to Montego Bay, Jamaica, that suddenly rose by 40%; on Travelocity they saw the price of a hotel room in Chicago suddenly rise by $110.
- Avoid it! Don’t bank on getting a juicy rate online until you click through to book it.
2. Added Fees: Many travel products include taxes, fees, and surcharges. Not all are listed until you get to the checkout page, where you might find an ugly surprise. And, some extra fees may not even be included, so you might not find out about them until you get to the hotel or airport.
- Avoid it! ShopSmart advises travelers to go to the travel provider’s website for free info to avoid surprises.
3. Overpriced Packages: When you book a flight online, you’re asked whether you’d like to add a hotel room or rental car. But packaged deals aren’t always bargains, says ShopSmart.
- Avoid it! Take the time to price a package’s components. Also check out FTF’s favorite deals sites so you can do the math and know what to expect.
4. Price Guarantees: Ads promise you’ll get the lowest rates or you get a refund. But ShopSmart found so much fine print that they concluded that claiming a refund is a long shot.
- Avoid it! Ignore price guarantees and find the best deals on your own.
5. Dynamic Pricing: This means that different people might get different prices online for identical searches.
- Avoid it! Erase traces of searches by resetting the browser preferences and deleting cookies, or use two different browsers to check prices. Great tip from ShopSmart!
6. Hidden Bargains: Major travel sites sometimes make it difficult to find the lowest prices, says ShopSmart. If you search for a car for example, there’s often no initial sorting tool so you can see all rentals in price order.
- Avoid it! Don’t book until you’ve reset search preferences to find all the deals. Also visit sites of individual travel vendors (like Southwest and other low cost carriers) if they’re missing from your meta-search engine results.
Getting More Help with Travel Scams
If you do get caught up in one of these mischievious marketing gimmicks, or believe you may be getting involved in a criminal travel scam, visit the American Society of Travel Agents’ Consumer Pages or check out the website and company references with the Better Business Bureau, before you pay a deposit.
Already ripped off? Feel free to share it with others in any of the online bulletin boards about travel, including FTF’s Forums.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.