Buyer Beware Discount Travel Scams and Offers

Today’s generation of traveller is used to a DIY type of vacation planning. Instead of wandering into a travel agent’s office to book a trip, travellers now scour the web, price comparing on the fly. But inexperience with booking online travel, combined with the desire to get the cheapest deal available, can often lead to disaster. Here are some of the pitfalls to watch out for when booking travel online.

The biggest rookie mistake we hear about is travellers booking with an online travel agency based in the US – a mistake often not discovered until they receive their credit card bill and the charge is in US currency. Factor in the exchange rate and the deal is usually not as good as the other Canadian pricing you had compared it against.

Car rentals booked through reward miles usually have hefty change fees if you need to make even the slightest change in your booking, such as returning it a day later or earlier. Many don’t offer the flexibility of one way drop off, or the perks given to those who’ve booked the vehicle directly with the company.

The same issue happens with airline travel. Online discount travel sites can have slightly lower prices than booking directly with the airline, but if you need to change anything, there are additional fees up to $250. And that’s in addition to the airline’s change fee, which you must pay as well.

What if they don’t even allow you to change your ticket? Some bookings placed through online agencies can’t be changed at all, and may be completely non-refundable. You might not even be offered a flight credit. Hats off to this guy, who legally changed his name and got a new passport because it was cheaper than changing his name on the ticket when his named was booked incorrectly.

Be extremely careful when visiting websites and calling toll-free numbers. A number of unscrupulous companies have begun mimicking the websites of airlines, hotels and car rental companies. It’s not technically illegal, and you will have a booking for your airline ticket. In the fine print you’ll see that you’re being extra booking fee or high change fees when using this dupe site.

These baddies are doing the same with phone numbers. Misdial by one number and it can take you to a travel company that will answer “BigChainHotel-booking agent.” In reality, you’re speaking with someone who will be charging you fees on top of your reservation. If a travel booking company asks you to sign something by email or fax, think twice. You’d be surprised by the number of people who have thought they were booking with the airline, signed the forms and found out later they were charged $300 in fees on top of their ticket. In most cases, hotels, car rental companies and airlines will not ask you to sign anything via email or fax.

Canada’s newest airline, NewLeaf, is taking added fees to an extreme not seen before in our country. They cheerfully caution passengers that they are paying for a seat and a seat belt, and that’s it. With New Leaf, you can check in and pre-pay for your carry-on bag at $25. If you check in at the airport, you not only pay a $10 service charge for your boarding pass, but you get dinged a $35 fee to pay for your same carry-on bag. If you checked in online but forgot to pre-pay for your carry-on bag, you are looking at an $80 charge at the gate. There are a myriad of other user fees – even their call centre doesn’t have a toll-free number, and you’ll pay long distance charges if you don’t have a free long distance phone plan.

We can’t stress it enough – read the fine print before you book. Ignore this advice and you might not like what you read on your credit card statement at the end of the month!