Using third-party hotel booking sites can cost you

Beware the tale of a Bernalillo couple who lost – but then regained – $800, due to a third-party hotel booking site that threatened to make their stay in Gunnison, Colo., far more costly than expected.

Third-party sites have been around for years, some of them “ripping off consumers and ruining vacation plans,” according to the Better Business Bureau.

In the New Mexico case, the Bernalillo woman was seeking a hotel room for the couple’s trip by doing an internet search. Instead of clicking on an official hotel website, she ended up doing business with a separate booking company.

That company took her credit card number and charged more than $800 for the reservation. When the couple got to the hotel, they had to show a credit card anyway – a common practice among hotels in case of incidental charges or any damage.

However, they ended up getting charged twice: $800 by the booking company and another $662 by the hotel. The couple says not only did the booking company overcharge them for those hotel rooms, but it never made the reservation at all.

The Dallas-based company they dealt with, Getaroom.com, (which also goes by the names of Getaroom, Consumer Club, Inc., and ConsumerClub.com), has been the subject of 1,869 complaints to the Better Business Bureau during the past three years.

Consumers nationwide have reported total losses of more than $584,000, according to a spokeswoman for the North Central Texas BBB.

Getaroom, which was taken over by Priceline, did refund the couple’s $800 after inquiries from the Journal.

“Upon investigation, we learned that while (the Bernalillo woman) had a prepaid booking, due to a misunderstanding at the hotel, she was incorrectly charged a second time upon check-in,” a Getaroom spokeswoman said. “A full refund has been processed for the cost of her original reservation. We fully investigate all complaints, including those made to the BBB, act as an advocate for our customers and seek to provide swift resolutions.”

Confusion and payment issues with third-party booking sites are not uncommon. A survey in 2018 by the American Hotel and Lodging Association showed that 23% of consumers reported they were misled by third-party sellers.

The bottom line is this: Make certain that when you reserve a hotel room, you know with whom you’re dealing. Distinguish between legitimate third-party sites run by hotels, airlines or cruise companies and sites that are questionable.

Other tips from the BBB and the hotel association:

•  Consider booking directly with the hotel or resort, or through the official website of the hotel chain. Don’t trust a website just because it appears legitimate or comes up near the top of an online search.

•  Check BBB.org. No matter how the reservation is booked, research the hotel, travel agency, or online site at BBB.org to make sure it has a good reputation.

•  Plan ahead. The best hotel deals are often available far in advance. Also, doing this allows time to research different sites and compare options and amenities.

•  Avoid broad internet searches like “best deals” or “cheapest rates” because they can sometimes lead to websites that look official, but are not. Double check the website address before providing credit card information.

•  Call the hotel a few weeks in advance to confirm the reservation. Doing so ensures you are protecting your personal and financial information, your reservation and your loyalty program points.

Contact Ellen Marks at [email protected] or 505-823-3972 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210, prompt 5. Complaints can be filed electronically at nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspx.

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