Travel Frauds and Scams

Hidden Hotel Fees - Resort Fee and Other Added Fee Scams
Online you booked a hotel room for $100/night, but when you checked out, it was $125, $150 or $200 a night!

Have you seen an advertised price for a hotel rom, then upon check-out, received a substantially higher bill, including things like "resort fees"?  According to a CNN article, travel websites like  Hotwire and Priceline claim that these fees, which are not included in the price you are presented when you book the room, are disclosed in their fine print.  That strikes us as highly unethical corporate behavior.  And so it did the FTC. The FTC is taking action against this scam. In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission sent out letters to 22 hotel chains warning them  that their online reservation sites may violate the law by providing a deceptively low estimate of what consumers can expect to pay for their hotel rooms. The warning letters cited consumer complaints that surfaced at a recent conference the FTC held on 'drip pricing,' a pricing technique in which firms advertise only part of a product's price and reveal other charges as the customer goes through the buying process. According to the FTC letters, 'One common complaint consumers raised involved mandatory fees hotels charge for amenities such as newspapers, use of onsite exercise or pool facilities, or internet access, sometimes referred to as 'resort fees.' These mandatory fees can be as high as $30 per night, a sum that could certainly affect consumer purchasing decisions.' The warning letters also state that consumers often did not know they would be required to pay resort fees in addition to the quoted hotel rate.

'Consumers are entitled to know in advance the total cost of their hotel stays,' said Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz. 'So-called 'drip pricing' charges, sometimes portrayed as 'convenience' or 'service' fees, are anything but convenient, and businesses that hide them are doing a huge disservice to American consumers.'

The letters strongly encourage the companies to review their websites and ensure that their ads do not misrepresent the total price consumers can expect to pay.

HHow does the hotel hidden fee scam work?

 Instead of posting the total price you have to pay, some hotels take a portion of the real cost of the room and give it a name like "resort fee", "Parking", Energy Fee" etc. and do not include this in their advertised prices.

You may not find out until about hte additional fees until you arrive at the hotel, or worse, until you check out. Online travel agencies like Expedia, TRavelocity, etc. and the middlemenlike Hotwire and Priceline usually protect themselves by putting a disclaimer in their fine print that you may be subject to additional fees.The scam is wost in highly sought-after resort destinations, like Hawaii, the Carribean, and Las Vegas, but itcan happen anywhere.

How To Protect Yourself

Unpleasant surprises can ruin a vacation, especially when they cost money. That's why it pays to investigate a travel package before you buy. But it can be difficult to tell a legitimate sales pitch from a fraudulent one. Consider these travelers' advisories:

Call the hotel and ask about any and all possible add-on fees before you book.

Kiplinger warns about the top 10 hidden fees and how to avoid them (click here for the full article, the list is below):

  1. Resort fees.
  2.  Early check-in fee
  3.  Additional person fee.
  4.  WiFi fee.
  5. Mini-bar and snack fee.
  6.  Parking fee.
  7.  Gym fee.
  8.  Housekeeping gratuity.
  9. Spa gratuity.
  10.  Telephone surcharge.

Other tips:

  • Be wary of "great deals" and low-priced offers. Few legitimate businesses can afford to give away products and services of real value or substantially undercut other companies' prices.
  • Don't be pressured into buying. A good offer today usually will be a good offer tomorrow. Legitimate businesses don't expect you to make snap decisions.
  • Ask detailed questions. Find out exactly what the price covers and what it doesn't. Ask about additional charges. Get the names of the hotel, airports, airlines and restaurants included in your package. Consider contacting these businesses directly to verify arrangements. Ask about cancellation policies and refunds. If the salesperson can't give you detailed answers, hang up.
  • If you decide to buy, find out the name of the travel provider - the company that is getting your reservations and tickets. This company usually is not the telemarketer.
  • Get all information in writing before you agree to buy. Once you receive the written information, make sure it reflects what you were told over the phone and the terms you agreed to.
  • Don't buy part of the package - the air fare or hotel stay - separately from the rest. If the deal is not what you expected, it may be difficult to get your money back for the part of the package you purchased.
  • Don't give your credit card number or bank information over the phone unless you know the company. One easy way for a scam operator to close a deal is to get your credit card number and charge your account. Sometimes fraudulent telemarketers say they need the number for verification purposes only. Don't believe them.
  • Don't send money by messenger or overnight mail. Some scam artists may ask you to send them a check or money order immediately. Others may offer to send a messenger to pick up your payment. If you pay with cash or a check, rather than a credit card, you lose your right to dispute fraudulent charges under the Fair Credit Billing Act. If you charged your trip to a credit card, you may dispute the charges by writing to your credit card issuer at the address provided for billing disputes. If possible, do this as soon as you receive your statement. In any case, the law gives you up to 60 days after the bill's statement date to dispute the charge.
  • Check out the company before you buy. Contact the Attorney General in your state or where the company is located to see if any complaints have been lodged against the travel firm or the travel provider. Be aware that fraudulent businesses often change their names to avoid detection.
  • If in doubt, say "no." Trust your instincts. It's less risky to turn down the offer and hang up the phone.

Where to Complain/b>

Several organizations can provide additional information and help you with complaints.

  • Write us if you have any experience with Travel scam!

  • Your state Attorney General or the Attorney General in the state where the company is located probably has a division that deals with consumer protection issues.
  • The American Society of Travel Agents, Consumer Affairs Office, at 1101 King Street, Alexandria,VA 22314, may be able to mediate your dispute with an ASTA member.
  • U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Intergovernmental and Consumer Affairs
    202-366-2220 (ask for air travel complaints)

  • The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

Example Travel Scam emails and experiences

Check out the experiences of some travel's below:

  1. Horizon Travel - VIP Travel Incentives

How to avoid getting scammed on a travel deal: Do your homework

  1. Before agreeing to travel services, look for established, reliable travel agencies.
  2. Don't be pressured into a decision -- take your time.
  3. When purchasing travel packages, get the names of all hotels, airlines, car rental agencies, restaurants involved. Check to confirm all reservations.
  4. Find out exactly when airline tickets will be delivered to you -- timeliness of ticket and boarding pass delivery can be a problem.
  5. Don't give your credit card number or bank account information when dealing with a telemarketer, but do pay for travel services with a credit card so that you may pursue a chargeback if the services were not received or not as represented.
  6. Watch out for hidden charges for airfare, hotel, car rental, airport or port transfers, meals, gratuities, taxes, parking, and upgrades.
  7. Get everything in writing so that you may be aware of all of the details of your travel plans and know the extent of hidden charges.
  8. Inquire about refund policies if the travel provider cancels or if you should cancel. Ask if there are special provisions for illness or a family emergency.
  9. Inquire about the availability of cancellation insurance. Be sure to obtain a complete description of the scope of coverage of the insurance.

The bottom line: When in doubt, hang up the phone. there's nothing rude about hanging up if the caller is not being cooperative in providing you with satisfactory answers to your questions.

If you feel you have been scammed, COMPLAIN to the appropriate state and federal agencies.




For a comprehensive list of national and international agencies to report scams, see this page.