Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel

Post originally Published November 28, 2023 || Last Updated November 29, 2023

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Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel - Look Beyond the Photos

Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel

When you're browsing hotel listings online, it's easy to get swept away by gorgeous high-definition photos of spacious rooms, sparkling pools, and Instagram-worthy views. But before you whip out your credit card, it's important to look beyond those tempting images to get the full picture.

The hotel photos you see are usually carefully staged and edited to portray the property in the best possible light. While they may look amazing, the reality can sometimes fall far short of the fantasy depicted on the website. As many duped travelers can attest, those photos don't always tell the whole truth.
For example, that shot of a bright, airy suite likely shows the hotel's most premium room category that you probably can't even afford. The pool area will look much less idyllic when packed with rowdy kids and pool toys. And good luck seeing that breathtaking ocean vista through a hazy smog.

To avoid unpleasant surprises, read reviews to see if actual guests describe the property the same way as the photos portray it. Pay attention to recent reviews, as hotels can go downhill fast. Photos also don't reveal important details like just how far the hotel is from key attractions. The location may look peaceful and private, when in reality it's a 30-minute cab ride to anywhere you'd want to go.
Also, don't forget that photos lie in omission as well as commission. A hotel can look great in the pictures, while failing to show a moldy bathroom, stained carpets, or other dealbreakers that would turn up in reviews. Likewise, photos focusing only on the best parts of the property allow you to mentally fill in the gaps with your own idealized assumptions.

What else is in this post?

  1. Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel - Look Beyond the Photos
  2. Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel - Read Between the Lines of the Description
  3. Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel - Research Recent Reviews Thoroughly
  4. Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel - Confirm Amenities Before Booking
  5. Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel - Compare Prices on Multiple Sites
  6. Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel - Watch Out for Unbelievable Deals
  7. Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel - Make Sure You Know the Exact Location
  8. Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel - Get Confirmation of Your Reservation

Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel - Read Between the Lines of the Description

Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel

When perusing a hotel's online description, it's crucial to analyze the carefully crafted wording to uncover any red flags. At first glance, verbose marketing speak can easily dazzle and distract from underlying issues glossed over in the hype. But paying close attention to subtle cues buried in the text can help you read between the lines and decipher the reality behind the razzle-dazzle.

For instance, a description boasting of "convenient proximity to major attractions" could really mean situated in the middle of nowhere or, at best, a lengthy schlep from the places you actually want to visit. Similarly, "cozy, intimate rooms" likely indicates tiny quarters you'll be tripping over each other in. And a "lively social atmosphere" is probably code for raucous partying keeping you up all night.

Euphemistic language is rampant in hotel descriptions, so you'll need to brush up on your doublespeak decoding skills. When you spot fluffy claims like "an exclusive experience" or "sophisticated elegance," that's your cue to dig deeper. Follow up by scouring guest feedback to discover what exactly is so "exclusive" or "elegant" about the property. Chances are it's not quite as glamorous as the polished prose makes it sound.
Also beware when descriptions rely heavily on subjective, emotive phrases rather than concrete details. Declarations of "unforgettable memories" and "unparalleled luxury" should raise your antennae, whereas specifics like "24-hour room service" and "complimentary WiFi" inspire more confidence. Whenever possible, give more weight to reviewers' objective assessments over the hotel's own vague, aspirational language.

While effusive descriptions aim to cast everything in a rosy glow, also look out for notable omissions. A lack of details around amenities, for instance, could signal their absence altogether. Likewise, complete silence regarding issues like dated decor, construction noise, or hidden resort fees speaks volumes. The absence of negatives, rather than reassuring you, is often a warning sign to dig deeper.

Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel - Research Recent Reviews Thoroughly

Savvy travelers know that reviews are the holy grail for getting the real scoop on hotels. But with sites flooded by fake, biased, or irrelevant reviews, you'll need to dig deep to unearth the gems of truth buried beneath the rubble. Focus your efforts on recent reviews to get up-to-the-minute intel that reflects the property's current condition.
Sort by most recent first and scan at least the past few months of feedback. Pay special attention to any emerging trends, like widespread reports of declining cleanliness or increasingly rude staff. These can signal a hotel on the downward slide. Conversely, a flurry of glowing reviews may indicate fresh management and improvements.

Drill down on relevant details by reading reviews tagged with keywords like "location" or "noise." Seek perspectives matching your situation, like families reviewing kid-friendly amenities, or business travelers weighing in on work spaces.

While professional photos don't lie, candid customer pics often expose ugly realities concealed by hotels. Photos documenting stained carpets, broken fixtures, pitiful food, and false advertising can be tremendously revealing. But don't rely solely on visuals; read the accompanying reviews for context.
Beware of fake-sounding scripted reviews reiterating marketing taglines verbatim. Authentic reviews feel more conversational, mixing pros and cons in logical reasoning. Revealing details like being assigned an accessible room despite no request indicate firsthand experience.
Give more weight to seasoned travelers, especially frequent visitors of that hotel/brand. Their perspective carries authority from direct comparison to alternatives. View individual reviews in context of the broader sentiment to identify outlier perspectives.
Whether raving or ranting, passionate reviewers often provide helpful color. But balance their singular experiences against the consensus to gauge typical stay quality. Consider both ends of the spectrum to get the full picture.

Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel - Confirm Amenities Before Booking

Before sealing the deal on a hotel reservation, it's absolutely essential to confirm exactly which amenities are included. While photos and descriptions may imply certain features, it pays to verify to avoid post-booking bait-and-switch frustration. I learned this lesson the hard way after nearly ruining a long-awaited anniversary trip.

Dazzled by photos of a private plunge pool overlooking rolling vineyards, I hastily booked a premium suite at a boutique Napa winery hotel. My husband and I splurged assuming we'd have this idyllic oasis to enjoy during our stay. However, when we arrived, the front desk apologetically informed us the pool was only for owners and we'd been assigned a standard room. All my complaints about false advertising fell on deaf ears.

Don't assume all the amenities hyped in photos and descriptions will be available to any guest booking a basic room. From pools, hot tubs, and fitness centers to minibars, bath products, and WiFi, you need to directly confirm inclusion. This advice proved invaluable when a colleague reserved an Orlando resort showing families frolicking in elaborate pools. Buried in the fine print was the fact only premium rooms included pool access, leaving her kids heartbroken.

Before booking, carefully read the room description and details. Call the front desk if anything seems unclear. Ask, "If I book X room type, will that give me access to Y amenity?" Get unambiguous confirmation. If an amenity seems implied but not explicitly stated, don't let it slide. Press for clarification: "The photos show a balcony in the room, but I don't see balconies mentioned. Can you please confirm if this room type includes a balcony?" Consider asking staff to email confirmation of your understanding.
Likewise, research whether amenities cost extra. Those tempting minibar snacks and beverages rarely come gratis. That pillow menu letting you customize your sleep experience could hit your bill with a hefty upcharge. While basic WiFi is often complimentary, you may need to pay for premium high-speed connectivity. Don't discover such gotchas post-checkout; clarify any associated fees beforehand.

If certain amenities are must-haves, tell the hotel upfront when booking. Say, "Having breakfast included is essential to us. Can you please guarantee I'll have breakfast covered if I book this package?" Make any dealbreakers clear before paying.

Booking via third-party sites can also cause confusion. The property may offer different amenities than what the aggregator lists. Always reconfirm directly with the hotel, as they have the final word. Don't rely on the middleman's portrayal.

Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel - Compare Prices on Multiple Sites

While it may seem obvious, one of the most crucial steps to scoring the best deal and avoiding hotel bait-and-switches is to compare rates across multiple booking platforms. Yet many travelers get tunnel vision once they find a rate they deem acceptable and book without investigating alternatives. Rookie mistake! Prices for the exact same room can vary wildly across different sites, so failing to compare shop often means leaving savings on the table.

I regularly see rates on the same hotels diverge by $50-100+ per night between platforms like the hotel's website, Expedia,,, and more. The rate spread tends to widen for more popular and in-demand properties. Even if you feel you’ve found a reasonable price, there’s a good chance you can do better with just a few extra minutes of comparison shopping.
Why do rates differ across sites? Online travel agencies negotiate with hotels for allotments of rooms to sell. The rates OTAs can offer depend on the volume of rooms they commit to selling. Meanwhile, hotels optimize pricing across channels trying to fill rooms. Room rates are extremely fluid, subject to algorithms, seasons, events, and more.
I recommend first checking the hotel's direct website, then expanding your search to OTAs.loyalty membership can also impact rate availability. I once found a Hawaii resort $250 per night cheaper by booking through versus directly. Had I not compared multiple sources, I’d have blown my budget.

Some experts claim booking direct with the hotel gets you the best rate, but I’ve found OTAs regularly undercut hotel prices. However, booking directly typically lets you earn hotel points and perks that OTAs don’t offer. So weigh your priorities before deciding where to book.
Smaller, boutique properties often don’t list on OTAs, so booking direct may be the only option. For giant hotel chains, compare both hotel site and OTAs for the optimal deal. And don’t rely on a single OTA; check multiple major ones like Expedia,,, etc.

I like using metasearch engines like Tripadvisor and Kayak which aggregate rates across various OTAs and hotel sites. But oddly enough, I’ve sometimes found better deals by checking OTAs individually versus metasearch results. So cast a wide net.

Beware requirements like minimum night stays and non-refundable rates that can vary across sites for the same hotel. Read the fine print closely to avoid getting stuck in unfavorable policies. Where you book can also dictate cancellation/change flexibility, so choose carefully if plans may shift.
Having accounts with major OTAs and hotel chains allows you to access member-only deals not visible to the general public. Though sometimes loyalty discounts are negligible or nonexistent. I’ve also found new email subscriber promos can offer better savings, so don’t overvalue loyalty perks.

Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel - Watch Out for Unbelievable Deals

If a hotel deal seems too good to be true, it very well may be. While scoring an unbeatable nightly rate can feel like winning the lottery, unbelievable bargains can also signal something fishy. Be skeptical of rates drastically lower than all competitors.

One tipoff is prices far below what makes logical business sense. For instance, I spotted a swanky Seattle boutique hotel for $60 per night when comparable higher-end properties charged $300+. Why the huge disparity? Turns out the hotel was essentially new and desperate for publicity and inaugural guests. A major red flag for still-establishing properties with no reviews.

Likewise, beware absurdly cheap prices from shady vendors you’ve never heard of. Many obscure websites claiming to offer rock bottom hotel deals are outright scams. Their “deals” lure folks in only to find reservation confirmation mysteriously unavailable at check-in. Meanwhile the scammers make off with your money, impossible to track down.
When encountering fishy bargains, vet the source thoroughly before biting. Search "[Website name] + scam" to unearth fraud reports and testimonials of being conned. Scrutinize the site for red flags like no working phone number or physical address. Ask yourself, "Would I feel comfortable handing over my credit card to this company?" If not, steer clear.
Stick to well-known online travel agencies like Expedia and hotel chains with established reputations. For extra peace of mind, book with your credit card to utilize fraud protections if need be. As the saying goes, if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Resist the temptation of unbelievable rates from unverified vendors.
To leverage pricing glitches legitimately, use flight deal alert services that verify mistake fares before blasting them out. Sign up for their newsletters and jump fast when receiving their rare but real notifications of deals like $49 Hawaii flights or business class to Europe for less than $1000.

Set up fare alerts on Google Flights to get pinged when prices drop substantially. But first research typical historical rates for your route to contextualize whether a sale is truly significant or essentially the regular standard price.

Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel - Make Sure You Know the Exact Location

With hotels, location is everything. A heavenly hotel is hellish if situated in an inconvenient area far from key attractions and conveniences. That’s why it’s absolutely imperative you verify the exact location before booking to avoid bait-and-switch disappointment.

I learned this lesson the hard way when enticed by an unbeatable rate at a boutique inn steps from Disneyland...or so I thought. Turns out there were several hotels with similar names clustered along the same stretch of road miles from the park. I had focused only on matching the name, not paying attention to cross streets pinpointing the address. An honest mistake, but one that forced us into 60+ minute Uber roundtrips twice daily, sucking time and money away from vacation fun.

Worse yet, some deceptive hotel listings deliberately fudge details to give the illusion of prime positioning when in fact the property dwells in obscurity. A colleague was victims to such trickery in Hawaii last year, lured by photos of an resort apparently fronting scenic Waikiki Beach. However, the hotel turned out tucked away in a drab commercial district - not even on Waikiki! Deviously designed listing photos conveyed ocean proximity, but the text showing a non-Waikiki address told the real story.

How can you avoid location-based bait-and-switches when booking hotels? First, plug the exact address into Google Maps rather than relying solely on the hotel or neighborhood name. Zoom in on the map interface to view surroundings and proximity to key attractions you want to visit. Scan Street View to get a feel for the vibe of the immediate area.

Read between the lines if an address seems vaguely listed without specifics like street names. Any use of broader geographic areas like “downtown Chicago” or “Waikiki district” warrants further vetting. Drill down by asking the hotel to provide the precise cross streets and then verifying for yourself via online mapping.

Poring over recent reviews often brings local location details to light, as guests can’t resist commenting on convenience (or lack thereof). Flag any mentions of a supposedly “central” or “well-located” hotel being frustratingly far from the action. Spot-check by plugging mentioned landmark distances into Google Maps to confirm remoteness.
When booking through third-party sites, location accuracy depends wholly on what the aggregator displays from the hotel. Repeatedly confirm directly with the hotel before paying, especially if the area seems dubious. Ask detailed questions like, “How many miles or minutes walking distance are you from X landmark?” Be relentless gathering specifics until satisfied.

If visiting a completely unfamiliar destination, research neighborhood characteristics thoroughly before booking. Peruse forums and blogs to understand street-level dynamics beyond the bird’s eye view of maps. Touristy areas teeming with attractions often prove most convenient for first-time visitors. Decide your priorities and quiz hotels to guarantee a location aligning with your needs.

Bait and Switched: How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Your Hotel - Get Confirmation of Your Reservation

With airfare and hotel scams running rampant these days, travelers can never be too vigilant about verifying reservations. Nothing’s worse than arriving excited for a dream vacation only to discover you don’t actually have a booking. Some shady vendors bank on travelers never double-checking before takeoff. Don’t let it happen to you - always get rock-solid confirmation of any reservation to avoid devastating bait-and-switch nightmares.

I learned this lesson personally when a too-good-to-be-true business class fare I booked to Tokyo suspiciously could never be retrieved in the airline's system, leaving me seatless and scrambling at check-in. Turns out the online agency I booked through supplied fake ticket numbers while pocketing payments. Always confirm directly with airlines and hotels, not just intermediaries who could flake.
Some friends of mine also got stung when an amazing safari package they booked through an unfamiliar agent in South Africa strangely had no record at the reserve. By the time they arrived, any accommodation was long sold out for the season. Don't bank on middlemen to relay accurate booking info - cut out the game of telephone and go straight to the source.

Anytime you receive reservation confirmation, follow up immediately by contacting the hotel or airline to validate all details. Say you want to "confirm reservation accuracy.” Provide the locator/confirmation codes and have them verbally verify that all is in order for your specific dates and room type. Don’t just assume all is well if you scored a booking bargain from an unknown vendor. Fraudsters can palm off fake confirmation info, so validating directly with the source is key.
I once made a booking on Priceline for a Seattle hotel stay. Upon contacting the hotel to confirm, I discovered Priceline had slightly misquoted the room type. By proactively reaching out, I ensured I’d get the room I paid for - not whatever was available after some placeholder booking.

Keep all confirmation documentation handy in the unlikely event you need to prove your reservation during check-in disputes. Forward confirmation emails to your travel partner as backup. Screenshot any reservation pages clearly showing your booking specifics, just in case. Print hard copies as another hedge against technical glitches.
If a reservation agent merely reiterates your booking details but doesn't verify by looking them up in the system, press them check and validate. Don't settle for anything less than an agent clearly seeing your reservation in their system tied to your name and dates. Ask, “Could you please pull up my reservation in your system and confirm the booking is there?” Letting them recite details already known to you proves nothing.
Beware third-party bookings that require retrieving vouchers or booking codes at the front desk. This lack of proper confirmation can cause major hassles, as the hotel may have no booking or force you to wait hours sorting it out. Refuse bookings requiring voucher pickup - demand definitive confirmation.

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