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Booking A Hotel Online? Let The Buyer Beware

As the economy makes it more and more difficult for hotels to book rooms, some properties have stooped to some very unethical practices.  Since most hotel bookings are now done online, it is very easy to deceive unsuspecting travelers.  Some hotels make exaggerated claims about how close they are to the beach, or the hot tourist attraction in town, others are now posting doctored pictures in an effort to get your travel dollar.

One online travel site, Oyster.com, has been gaining popularity as a travel site by posting ‘undoctored photographs’ of hotel properties.  Oyster users are encouraged to contribute by posting their own pictures.  Forgot the pool area filled with models in swimsuits, these pics are the real McCoy.  They also have a section on their site featuring so-called photo fakeouts and some are quite outrageous.  Examples include hiding giant cranes visible from an adjoining property where a new resort is under construction, and another cropping out a shopping mall that borders the pool area of the resort.  

As a frequent visitor to the Disney Resort area I have learned not to believe the hotel hype as most properties will suggest that they are right next to the entrance to the theme parks.  Hotels fifteen or twenty miles away offer descriptions that would convince you that you could walk to the Disney complex from their property. 

1. Map It Yourself
Many online travel sites offer a mapping service that allows you to view on a map where a particular hotel is actually located compared to the local sites of interest.  I have found these to be useful, but an even better approach is to use a free mapping service such as MapQuest.  Obtain the address of the hotel prior to booking your room and use MapQuest to get an actual mileage between the hotel and the points of interest you intend to visit on your trip.

2. Call The Hotel
A quick call to the hotel can uncover whether or not there is any construction or remodeling planned during the time you will be staying there.  Also ask whether there will be any planned closures of hotel amenities such as the pool, jacuzzi, or fitness center.  I would also inquire as to any construction at bordering properties.  Major construction at the property next door can be just as big of a drawback as if it were taking place on the property itself.  It is less likely that a front desk employee is going to knowingly make misrepresentations than the corporate website, but this is still not 100 percent foolproof.

3.  Check Third Party Review Sites
Most travel sites have a review area that allow individuals to post reviews of hotel properties.  Be sure and read these before making your final selection.  Also, check Google Maps which has a built-in review feature.  Yahoo Local is a similar service that can really uncover the truth about a hotel, restaurant, or other local attraction. 

4.  Get Details About The Guarantee From Your Preferred Travel Site
The word guarantee is thrown around so much it may not have much meaning anymore.  Most of the guarantees offered by the major travel sites are vague and don’t really promise much of anything.  For example, here is an excerpt from Travelocity’s guarantee:

Travelocity reserves the right in its sole discretion to modify or discontinue the Price and Service Guarantee or to restrict its availability to any person, at any time, for any reason, and without prior notice … 

Travelocity is one site I have not been satisfied with due to the very topic of this article.

In the long run, hotels that rely on misrepresentation to keep their property booked are on borrowed time.  In this current age of real time information, and the ability of individual consumers to post reviews and photos online, there will be less and less people fooled.  These consumer resources are only valuable if you use them to do your own reconnaissance.  Booking a hotel online? My advice; let the buyer beware

Have you been scammed by fake hotel pictures or descriptions?  Please post your story below.

Helping you make the most of God’s money!

James L. Paris
Editor-In-Chief ChristianMoney.com 
Follow Me on Twitter Twitter.com/jameslparis
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