These Devious Hotel Scams Could Ruin Your Vacations

After months of hard work, a vacation is just what you need. It’s time to forget about problems and relax in the best hotels out there.

But best doesn’t always mean popular or cheap. Best stands for a place where guests pay fair prices and feel valued. Because who wants to spend a vacation stressing about hotel bills?

Hotel fraud is a hidden pandemic and if you don’t check your bill twice you may be charged for unwanted services without your permission.

Despite the demand, some locations still use these sneaky techniques to rack up some money. The guest ends up at home with an inflated bill: utility expenses, basic service fees, cramming, and so on.


Nobody can relax under these conditions. These tips will show you how to avoid hotel fraud and get the vacation you deserve.

Hotel Scams: Rare Case Or Common Practice?

Hotel Scams Rare Case Or Common Practice

The oldest scams still appear in today’s hotels. In a high-demand location, dishonest hotel workers will try to squeeze money from the most basic features: breakfast, room service, parking, or laundry.

Why? Because foreign guests will rarely pay attention to it. It has become a common practice where we are responsible: hotel scams may be unethical, yet many times legal.

But hotel scams can only go so far. Hence modern schemes happen online as well, before people book their actual rooms. Although you can prepare, nobody knows where you’ll find the next travel scam. It could be:

  • A hotel in a popular location. They deceive to catch up with competitor’s locations.
  • A hotel scamming in a small town to profit from the few guests who stay.
  • A brand new hotel looking for clients.

Types Of Hotel Scams

Types Of Hotel Scams

It’s too easy to fall for fraud due to the many schemes out there. You probably won’t see them coming unless you prepare — whether you’re booking online or staying at the place already.

In the Hotel

Overpricing Basic Services

The hotel location can change the amount you pay for the parking lot, minibar, or phone calls.
Remote location. No competition nearby? Offer and demand principles will apply. Your hotel can charge you ten times more in such cases (they will) because it’s their business. It’s convenient, and those who come unprepared won’t have other choices.

Hidden Costs

Even if basic services are overpriced, at least you know what you’re paying for.

With hidden charges your wallet cash goes into room service, laundry, drying, bottled water, breakfast, and other promotions you thought were free.

Assumptions cost you money. The next time the house gifts you something, ask them what services are included. The bill you paid on the reservation shouldn’t be higher when leaving the hotel.

Overpaying for “Landscape Views”

The same room can cost twice as much depending on the floor of the apartment and the associated views. In the online listing, you can read the description as being an “oceanfront” or “partial views.”

Even if you choose the oceanfront, you may have no ocean view as you would suspect. The oceanfront description means just that your room is positioned towards the ocean. Your sights may be blocked by the next building or the ocean might be a few kilometers away.

If you buy a room that includes an “ocean view,” you may end up in an obstructed room at a premium price as well. Barely seeing the ocean would count as a “partial view” and that blue square inch form in the distance behind the 5th building might just be enough to justify the description.

Phone Impersonation

A scammer calls your hotel room phone posing as a hotel worker. His confidence trick makes you give him the credit card number, and they steal your identity.

For example, a “worker” calls you late at night to discuss a payment problem. You share your data to avoid problems and stay in the hotel. The card money is gone.

Or you may find a restaurant leaflet to order meals to your room. Given the low prices, it’s worth phoning and giving them your card number…

Free Wifi

It’s your first day in the hotel, and you want to check some pages online. You thought about asking the hotel worker about the Internet connection, but you just found an open network in the hall.

You keep browsing in your room, checking bills, watching movies, or entering your accounts. But the next time you visit, your passwords have changed, and your account has less money.

Perhaps it has to do with that man with a laptop you saw at the minibar.

In this scam, a con man creates a free wifi spot to steal all your computer data. A legit hotel spot will have its name and a password given with your room card.

If you ever use these public spots, avoid pages that require your data, such as online stores.

Overbooked Hotel / The Walking Scam

At the last minute, the room you booked could appear as “unavailable.” These hotels accept more reservations than rooms available.

They send you to another hotel at a comparable level (cheaper). If you pay $200 per night and the other hotel charges $100, you just made $100 a day by redirecting them with your price. Not including the referral commissions.

If you reject it, you don’t get your money. They exchange it for “hotel vouchers,” such as free nights at the second hotel. A waste of time and money for the client.


Cramming / VIP Memberships

You have found a deal on a Facebook ad: the hotel you want with a 40% discount! You visit the 3rd party website to read the conditions.

After you enter your credentials, you book your room for that price. You could even call the hotel to confirm it. What you don’t know is that the discount was part of a membership program.

If you travel a lot, these monthly subscriptions will help you cut costs. But if you are only there for the discount, you’ll be paying monthly fees for privileges you don’t need.

Once you use the discount, it’s very hard to refund the first-month subscription. Cramming scams empty your wallet little by little long after your vacation ended.

Fake and Misrepresented Listings

Fake photos, wrong features, manipulated reviews. Nothing you read online tells you what the hotel is: you’re buying in uncertainty. Even the hotel location may be fake.

Read the most recent reviews. Search for details on other pages. If they say nothing— or bad things— don’t trust their website. The deal you’re looking for may not exist.

Advance Fee Scam

On a deals website, you book a hotel room for the next week. But the website owner may not even have a hotel. You’re making a reservation that doesn’t exist. You’re giving money to a scammer posing as a new hotel or impersonating a famous brand.

In an advance fee scam, you never choose the payment method that you want. They will usually show you a single (unusual) way to make the purchase: no-protection P2P, money orders, wire transfer.

Phishing Attacks

Scammers reach out via ad campaigns, phone calls, social media, forums, SMS, and cold-email. They send you to a brand-new hotel company or an impersonated brand website. Once you give them your credentials:

  • You pay for a fake offer
  • The thief enters your account and steals digital money
  • The scammer can profit from selling your information. Overnight, dozens of scammers may use your credit card and register you for other services.

A subtle phishing attack could use the stolen ID to extend the hotel vacation. After the guest has gone home, the con man stays in another hotel room for weeks using their money. The client would blame the hotel worker and never find out the truth.

Note: Phishing can happen in the hotel. Con men use skimmers/shimmers on hotel ATMs, the only place where guests can cash out virtual money.

Unusual Hotel Fraud Examples

Unusual Hotel Fraud

The Travel Agent

You book a hotel on a 3rd party website. Instead of buying from the hotel, a middleman is buying it for you and holding the difference.

Foreign buyers may overpay for their room, thinking it’s the normal price. Or they may pay $200 for Hotel 1 but be booked for Hotel 2, which costs only $100.

Agents make free money from these made-up fees plus referral commissions.

The Room Inspectors

Two men knock at your room door for a check-up requested by their manager. The inspector (thief) will look for something worth stealing. His peer will be distracting you at the door, showing you some (made-up) virtual documents or room-related papers as he talks.

Extended Vacation

It’s the last day of your stay and you’re leaving the room. But as you leave the building, an unknown man somehow gets into your empty room.

The con man phones the hotel workers to extend the visit which expired that day. The hotel charges the same guest account, and the scammer gets free hotel vacations. The real guest finds out the huge bill long after the man has left.

Warning Signs Of Hotel Fraud

Warning Signs Of Hotel Fraud

Once you fall for a scam, it’s a hassle to undo the mistakes. You’ll wish to have made a five-minute check to avoid losing hundreds of dollars. These red flags will tell you when to walk away before it’s too late.

Refund Policy

First red flag: you ask about refund conditions, but they have none — or very confusing. If you were to book from this hotel, you most likely won’t get your money back if anything goes wrong. The overbooking scheme we mentioned above is a good example.

There’s a reason you can’t find a cancellation policy. Consider booking somewhere else where you’re sure every dollar is worth it.

Faulty Website Description

What you found on the site has nothing to do with customer reviews or Google Maps. Why?

Whenever this is not an unintentional mistake, it could be a 3rd party impersonating the real hotel, or the owner himself deceiving to attract guests.

If you don’t know what to expect from this location, rather choose another hotel.

Phishing Red Flags

Phishing scammers pull some tactics hotel owners rarely do. You might see such and similar advertisements:

  • Free gift! Two weeks in our hotel. Sign up with your card now.
  • Your payment is still pending/validating. Please, double-check the card number before we cancel your reservation.
  • Register into our website to qualify for large hotel discounts!

When it’s not free stuff, it’s an impersonation of a popular website. Legit hotels don’t follow-up on you via email for vague pending charges.

The only way to know if the promotion is true is to call the hotel directly.

Pricing Changes On Format

Guests know online reservations can be cheaper depending on the length and season. If you ask for a deal on the spot, the hotel rooms may cost more or be unavailable, therefore it is wise to book in advance.

What doesn’t make sense is to pay the full amount online and find hidden costs when you arrive. If they charge you for the parking lot, confusing service fees, or change your reservation— and they didn’t tell you on their website— you still have time to cancel and drive away from the hotel.

These initial hidden costs are signs of what’s about to come. Avoid assumptions and contact hotel workers by phone to consult about the website features.

Preventing Hotel Scams

Preventing Hotel Scams

Do you want to relax from work or be paranoid about hotel schemes? Don’t take these facts as a travel warning. Do your homework so that by the time you get to the hotel, nothing can ruin your vacations.

Travel with Agencies?

Travel agents exist for a reason: to make life easier. Most people assume everything will go as they expect, even if they’re uninformed about the city. Find an agent who specializes in the area you will visit: it will save you a lot of headaches.

It costs money, but not as much as falling for a hotel scam. But beware: travel agency scams happen as often as with hotel bookings.

Bring Cash And Credit Cards

If you are in a very popular tourist spot, prepare all the money you will need before going to the hotel. Because:

  • You expose yourself to ATM scams when withdrawing cash
  • You are exposed to identity theft when logging into your accounts via public WiFis.

The best way to avoid such scams is by first educating yourself and choosing better locations.

Ask Questions

Nobody will care about your money more than you, so think about the hidden costs and ask questions.

It’s as simple as asking: “what is this fee you’ve charged me?” It could be a “computer error,” and they will refund you most of the time.

Don’t book until you know you’re on the official site and read their cancellation policy.

Inspect the Room

What better way to scam than to blame the victim! When you visit your room, make a five-minute check-up.

Does everything work correctly? Make a quick photo to prevent false blames. If you find out that something is not working or as it should be, tell it immediately.

If they are unaware of those original damages, they can blame you for the harm.

Be A Smart Client

  • Don’t just trust what the banner says. Read the latest customer reviews. Does it match your expectations? If not, look somewhere else.
  • Don’t be afraid to pay more for a better hotel. It’s better than getting a cheap deal that may not exist.
  • Report and review your experiences to protect the travelers’ community from fraud.

Hotel Fraud: Wrapping Up

Before leaving the hotel, check the bill for any snacks you did not eat, calls you did not make or clothes you did not wash. You should always scrutinize your hotel bill and ask about any incremental charge you see on there that is anything other than the amount you agreed to pay

Hotel scams cost people enormous amounts of money worldwide, just in the US this adds up to over $4 billion a year. Despite the action taken against schemes, hotel owners practice them all the time, mostly with no legal consequences (except for identity theft).

It’s not just about the money they try to get from you in a very sneaky and unfriendly way, it is about your overall wellbeing and comfort while you are away from home.

Better to have some more control over the situation and take responsibility in your own hands to stay safe. If you want the best experience, learn to detect the red flags, and take the time to prevent these problems. Better safe than sorry.

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