Every year, consumer reports to Better Business Bureau (BBB) focused on travel, vacation, or timeshare scams significantly increase during three times of the year – in March during spring break, in July and August during the latter half of summer break, and in December during the holiday traveling season. These three time periods account for 77% of all travel scam losses reported to BBB by Texas residents over the past five years. In the fourth quarter of 2022, 15,000 reports of travel scams to the FTC resulted in $22.6 million in losses.
Travel scams can take a variety of forms, but some of the most common include:
• Vacation rental con. These con artists lure in vacationers with the promise of low fees and great amenities. The "owner” creates a false sense of urgency – such as telling potential clients that another vacationer is interested in the rental – to encourage a target to submit a payment before they can do sufficient research or question the ad's legitimacy.
• “Free” vacation scams. When a cruise or travel company advertises a vacation as free, it does not necessarily mean the trip is without cost or restrictions. Watch out for add-on fees for air transportation, port charges, taxes, tips and other undisclosed fees.
• Third-party booking site scams. Exercise caution if you book your airfare, hotel, or other travel through an unrecognized third-party website. BBB Scam Tracker continues to receive reports of scammers pretending to be online airline ticket brokers. In the most common version of the scam, travelers pay with a credit card and, shortly after making the payment, receive a call from the company asking to verify their name, address, banking information or other personal details – something a legitimate company would never do.
As travelers solidify their plans and contact rental locations, travel agencies or hotels, BBB cautions Texas residents to be careful when interacting with anyone who uses aggressive sales tactics or promotes a deal that seems too good to be true.
In August 2023, one New Braunfels resident reported an online search directed them to a third-party website to book a $3,800 hotel stay. After submitting the payment, the website claimed the booking was confirmed and provided a confirmation number. To verify everything was legitimate, the customer contacted the hotel to confirm the booking was received.
“[The hotel] had no record of it,” the BBB Scam Tracker report stated. “I was also told my confirmation number was invalid. After many attempts to confirm my booking, [the website] cannot provide me a legitimate confirmation number and will not refund me.”
In March 2023, one Round Rock-area resident reported they spent $238 for a roundtrip flight from Austin to Boston on a third-party booking website. After submitting payment and confirming their flight, the website contacted the customer later that day, claiming they owed an additional $260.
“I tried to cancel my flight, and they hung up on me,” the resident reported to BBB Scam Tracker. “I tried to cancel on their website, and there is no place to cancel the flight. I then called my bank and canceled my card. Now, I have to find a new flight and reset all my auto-draft accounts once my new card comes in.”
In June 2023, one Tyler resident reported they used a third-party website to book a single-night stay at a hotel during spring break. When the purchaser arrived at the hotel, they were told their booking was for two rooms and two nights.
“I was supposed to be charged $100 upon arrival but was charged $716,” the resident reported. “The hotel and booking agency apologized and said I would receive a full refund with no cancellation fees. The booking agency is now disconnecting calls when I reach out to them and refuse to give me a refund or their mailing address to send a certified letter.”
To avoid becoming a victim of a travel scam this holiday season, Better Business Bureau recommends prospective travelers follow these guidelines:
• Get trip details in writing. Before making a final payment, get all the trip details in writing. Details should include the total cost, restrictions, cancellation penalties, and names of the airlines and hotels. Also, review and keep a copy of the airline’s and hotel’s cancellation and refund policies and the travel agency or booking site's cancellation policies.
• “Too good to be true” deals. As is common in various scams, if the deal or discount seems too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers often use this tactic to lure in potential victims and use aggressive “limited-time” language to entice travelers to pay before researching the business.
• Avoid wiring money or using a prepaid debit card. Scammers know these payment options are fast, immediate, and challenging to reverse. BBB recommends using a credit card for online transactions whenever possible because it is often easier to dispute pending charges when a product or service is never received.
• Call the rental owner or hotel. If you are not using a service that verifies properties and owners, be wary of negotiating a rental solely by email. Speaking directly with the owner on the phone and asking detailed questions about the property and local attractions will clarify whether the listing is genuine. If using a third-party booking site, verify the hotel or rental has received your booking by contacting them directly.
• Unsolicited offers. Be cautious if you win a free trip from a contest or sweepstakes that you do not remember entering. This is especially true if the offer is time-sensitive and requires you to pay a processing or other fee to receive a promised reward. Check the official website of the company the promotion originates from to verify that it is legitimate.
For more tips on how to avoid travel scams, visit BBB.org/Travel.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of a travel scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker. Information provided could prevent another person from falling victim.
ABOUT BBB: The Better Business Bureau has empowered people to find businesses, brands and charities they can trust for over 110 years. In 2022, people turned to BBB more than 250 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million businesses and Charity Reports on about 12,000 charities, all available for free at BBB.org. Local, independent BBBs can be found across the United States, Canada, and Mexico, including BBB serving the Heart of Texas which was founded in 1950 and serves 105 counties across Texas.