Business Travelers: Check it Out Before You Check In
used with permission from FTC Business Center Blog
by Lesley Fair
Here’s a tip for business travelers. Just because a webpage looks like the official site of your favorite hotel chain doesn’t necessarily mean it is. Before you reserve a room for your next out-of-town meeting or family vacation, make sure you know who’s at the other end of that BOOK NOW button.
The internet offers savvy travelers lots of options for getting the best deal on hotels. You can contact a property directly, book through a hotel chain’s website or toll-free number, visit one of those travel comparison sites, or use a third-party online hotel reservation service. The choice is yours – but make sure it’s an informed choice. Some third-party sites clearly disclose that they’re not affiliated with the hotel. Others appear to mimic the look of a chain’s official site, making it tougher for consumers to know who they’re doing business with.
Why would it make a difference to travelers? According to some reports, people have arrived at their destination only to find there’s no record of a reservation in their name. Another concern: Reservations made through a third-party site may not count toward a hotel’s rewards program. In other instances, special requests made through a third-party site may not be conveyed to the property where you’ll be staying. Another potential risk is that third-party sites could have policies about things like pre-payment, cancellations, or refunds that differ from the chains you’re used to dealing with directly.
How you decide to book a room for your next trip is up to you, but getting the straight story about who’s handling the reservation isn’t always easy. If you type a hotel name into a search engine, it’s unwise to assume that the first result that pops up will always be the official site. Some third-party reservation companies pay for the top spot on the results page or buy prominent space on the right.
What about looking for the names, logos, or URLs of familiar chains? Some third-party sites look a lot like the official sites, so you can’t rely just on the usual visual cues. Calling a number listed online can be problematic because some third-party sites use call centers that are hard to distinguish from a chain’s official reservation line.
What steps can a traveler take to be better informed?
- If it’s important to you to book directly through the hotel chain, consider using the toll-free number or URL on your rewards card or featured in the company’s TV or print ads.
- Whether you choose to book through a chain or through a third-party site, read the details carefully with an eye out for any fees or surcharges that may lurk in the fine print or behind vaguely labeled hyperlinks.
- If you received an email confirmation, travel with a printed copy or have it easily accessible on your smartphone.
- Before you hit the road, use a number you know to be genuine to call the hotel directly. Double-check that your reservation is in the system.
- Share these tips with your company travel office or anyone else who makes reservations on behalf of your business.