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Booking sites with prepaid vouchers: beware scam

Sydney
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Booking sites with prepaid vouchers: beware scam

On our travels we normally prebook all our accommodation using various on-line booking sites, and, generally, this system works very well, and we've enjoyed some great bargains. But our experience in Istanbul has made us think twice about using the sites which take your money at the time of booking and issue you with a voucher which you surrender to your hotel on arrival. The bottom line was, the hotel we had booked (for two nights) was quite happy to take the voucher and have us fill in all the forms, but then, a few hours later, told us that they'd sold our room to another couple who had walked in off the street, and there was, therefore, no accommodation for us at the hotel! The fact that we had already checked in, and had paid for the room almost a half-year before, didn't phase them one bit. Their policy, the manager finally admitted, was to dishonour the vouchers (which are, of course, sold at less-than-the-rack rate) if a full-price paying customer should turn up in the meantime. He even said that he had informed the various booking sites about this!

So what did we get for our two-night voucher? The offer that the manager would ring around the nearby hotels and see if any of these had a room available for us. He was able to turn up one (it was, it was explained to us, a heavy booking-demand weekend); this other hotel had just one room left (it turned out to be the worst room in the place, opening onto the lobby, which was very noisy until quite late at night), and we could take it or leave it. But, if we chose to leave it, we were "on our own". As far as he was concerned, this offer fulfilled the obligations of the prepaid voucher (which, of course, he retained... so I presume the booking site paid him the money it had collected from us and he settled with the host hotel).

According to the terms of the voucher, the hotel that "bumped" us is a four-star hotel offering suites. What we wound up with, for the first night, was considerably less than that, although I must admit that the manager of the "substitute" hotel, clearly aware of our displeasure, couldn't have been nicer, and for our second night he moved us into a room away from the lobby which was more than satisfactory. But the point that really shocked us about all this is that neither hotel seemed to think that there was anything particularly unusual about voucher-holders being "bumped" in favour of full-price customers, even after check-in. This would seem to me a very good reason for travellers -- at least those going to Istanbul -- to avoid the booking sites that charge you up-front, and stick with the ones that allow you to make the booking without actually paying anything until you check in.

I informed the booking site about this matter, and they promised to investigate, but, a week later, I still haven't heard about the outcome, and nobody has talked about this companiy's obligations in a case where they hold on to your money for a half-year without even guaranteeing that you'll get a room of the stabndard you paid for in the hotel that they offered. It's something to consider when choosing your booking site. What do other Tripadvisor writers think?

I have deliberately not mentioned here the name of the booking site (yet), because I don't think the problem is unique to that site... it would probably apply to any of the "prepay-and-get-a-voucher" sites.... and, also, they may still decide to get back to me with an equitable solution (banning the hotel might be a good start). I will be happy to mention the name of the hotel that treated us like this, but I'll do it in a few days, as a follow-up post, after I have finally given up on hearing again from the booking site. This first post is just to make you think twice before you book... and, hopefully, to encourage any others who have had similar experiences to write in with their cautionary tales!

Edited: 08 June 2014, 00:14
Istanbul
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for Istanbul
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1. Re: Booking sites with prepaid vouchers: beware scam

Alan, Thank you very much for letting us be aware of this serious situation with some hotels and third party booking sites. In fact these are exactly the reasons that I have become a firm believer in booking my own accommodations directly with the hotels. Very recently we had a great discussion on a similar topic at the following thread. "tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g293974-i368-k7492…". You will see at my post No.4 there how I book my hotels. This further link also deals with the risks and dangers of booking with third party websites: "tripadvisor.com/Travel-g255055-c195752/Austr…". Your booking website seem to fall into the category of "Group Buying Sites", where and I quote: "Consumers are required to pay the voucher company upfront, then uses the voucher to claim the product or service from the individual business". The article further goes to say that and I quote "These sites have had a fair share of the media spotlight - many for the wrong reasons. Grievances include offers not living up to what was promised, long delays obtaining goods or services paid for upfront, extremely limited availability, plus fine print that makes vouchers difficult to redeem before expiry. There are also question marks over the difficulties in obtaining refunds when they have a problem".

In my opinion all these explanations do not justify one bit the behavior of the hotel towards you. If they had a contract with this group buying website, then they should have honored it under all circumstances but within the limitations and restrictions of the voucher as clearly stated on it. Especially after check in, another customer willing to pay the full price for the same room, is never an acceptable excuse to ask you to leave the hotel, even if they helped you to find a second rate substitute. This practice must have been against their contract with the "group buying website". It may not have been against the law but definitely it is, business wise, very unethical.

In any case I will very much appreciate if you supply us the names of the hotels and the booking website that sold the vouchers to you. This way we will know much better the risks of using such booking websites and avoid the hotels with unethical business practices.

I hope the rest of your trip was uneventful and you enjoyed being in Istanbul,

enigma...

Sydney
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2. Re: Booking sites with prepaid vouchers: beware scam

Yes, Istanbul was great, thanks... it was just this one hotel that caused us to waste most of an afternoon.

Your comments were interesting and informative, enigma, and I will certainly read your other posts. One thing, however... our booking was not one of those where you pay for your coupon and then contact the supplier to see if there's a date where he can fit you in. This was a firm booking for an exact weekend and a specific grade of room. All we had to do was turn up, surrender the voucher, and pay for any extras which were not specified in the conditions of the booking.

I will certainly name names in the next few days; I am inclined to name the hotel right now, as I don't owe them a thing....but I will wait and give all the names in the same post. The booking site -- quite a well-known one which we had used successfully twice before (but won't again, I think) -- deserves a couple more days, I feel, to respond again to my letter (they did respond very quickly a week ago, undertaking to investigate... since then, however, they've gone very quiet, but maybe tomorrow will bring the promised resolution).

Stay tuned for the next development!

Istanbul, Turkey
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3. Re: Booking sites with prepaid vouchers: beware scam

This is the second time I have heard of this is as many weeks.Someone booked a hotel in Mardin and had exactly the same experience,and the hotel just could not have cared less.They half heartedly rang a couple of other hotels but there were no vacancies in the town at all-again this was on a weekend ,and in the end this couple had to go to another town for accomodation.

I don't know if it is the same booking site as you-Hotels.com but their attitude was about the same as the hotel-each blaming the other and neither doing anything to help.

What do we learn from this?Booking sites are not safe or guaranteed and money is king.

Even if it costs a little more to do so book direct with the hotel and get a confirmation of your booking with them.

That wasn't the nicest start to your visit but I'm glad to know you enjoyed your time in Istanbul in spite of this event.

Alexandria, Egypt
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4. Re: Booking sites with prepaid vouchers: beware scam

In my opinion these booking sites are honest , the fault is the hotels who seek a higher rate than the publish rate when you book the room in them , in fact when you payonline before the trip with several months the prices are cheaper due to 2 reasons , first you already pay the money upfront and before arriving with months so they guarantee no refund is done ( due that refund is not allowed on those site ) and second the room is cheap due to booking several months before arrival so the rate usually is cheap even if you will pay directly to the hotel , but what happen then??? the hotels when the time is near the prices raise so much so they want to make me profit by dumping the online reservation and give the room to walk in customers as they are paying the standard rate which is in most case double what you have paid already from months , so the fault i hotels being not honest and dont stick to they commitment to the booking sites

Istanbul, Turkey
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5. Re: Booking sites with prepaid vouchers: beware scam

Whilst yes,you are correct ,it is the fault of the hotel,the booking sites must also take a share of the blame.If a hotel registered with them doesn't honour a booking then the web site should refuse to deal with them.

One assumes that there is a contract of some description between booking stes and hotels.If one side or the other dishonours the agreement then the 'affected party'should end that agreement.

Mount Dora, Florida
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for Istanbul
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6. Re: Booking sites with prepaid vouchers: beware scam

Ultimately, the fault rests with the booking agent who makes arrangements with the hotels. If they enter into a contract with a hotel that does not honor their arrangements they should end the relationship and reimburse the guest. They advertise for the hotels, and obtain guests for the hotels. If they cannot provide what they promise, they collected the money and they should return the money. They cannot just avoid this responsibility because a hotel decides not to comply.

This is, however, why I never make arrangements with third party agents. I use them to check rates and availability, but I stopped booking with them after all three of my experiences ended up with me paying more than the walk-up rate, while my rooms were either given to other guests or failed to meet my specifications. I have only had one hotel that would not match whatever deal I find with a third-party agent, and that we really only because the reservation agent at the hotel spoke little English and did not understand what I wanted her to do.

I just do not understand why anyone would put a third party between himself and his hotel. If there is any type of problem, it is one more layer to go through in seeking a resolution. I simply refuse to spend another minute of my life on the telephone to a booking agent when my reservation is not correct, nor do I want to spend 6 months after my vacation attempting to negotiate a refund with a company that is not really a hotel at all.

Sydney
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7. Re: Booking sites with prepaid vouchers: beware scam

A lot of interesting thoughts here. First, sarikanarya, your comment about the second time in two weeks. I had NEVER heard of this before, so it seems it is a growing problem and one which it is the responsibility of the booking sites to stamp out before the word gets around and, eventually, kills their business. Some of the booking sites -- eg hotels.com and booking.com -- often give you the option: pay now and get a better rate, or book now at a higher price but pay on arrival. These experiences would seem to indicate that the pay-on-arrival method is the only way to go to minimise the risk of this new scam. Secondly, Busy-retired, I guess that the reason "why anyone would put a third party between himself and his hotel" and use a booking site is simply one of convenience.... you can compare a whole bunch of hotels and room rates in a given town within seconds. That, I would argue, is a good thing, and, in the past, I have often been very grateful for these sites... I've picked up some bargains that had me boasting for days (the 34 euro double room with ensuite and breakfast in Selcuk, only days after this Istanbul fiasco, is a good case in point... thanks, booking.com!) While there are some booking sites I have grown to dislike (I would never, ever, EVER deal with laterooms.com again!), the majority of these sites seem to justify their existence by providing a useful time-saving service with a minimum of risk. However, there will always be the hotels, I guess, who will look for a way to exploit the system, and egyptmmix has shown this very concisely; by paying in advance a half-year earlier, my room in Istanbul was returning to the hotel only about 60% of the rate they could get from a drop-in guest prepared to pay the full price, or, maybe, even a little bit more. The temptation is there if the money means more to you than your reputation.

So, should the booking site take at least a share of the responsibility? While, in this case, they expressed concern and promised to investigate, as of this moment this is ALL they have done (by the way, I contacted them yet again and gave them the link to this thread). I'd rather like to think that they might at least concede that they have no moral right to collect interest on money which yielded only a voucher that proved to be more nuisance than it was worth, and at least make some token reparation... and quickly. I'd also like to think they would ban the offenders from using their services, and tell their affiliates to do likewise... kind of a "name-and-shame" register for all booking sites to attend to. Otherwise, in the long run, everyone loses except the rogue hotels, which must, at this minute, be patting each other on the back thinking how clever they all are!

Edited: 08 June 2014, 23:36
Sydney
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8. Re: Booking sites with prepaid vouchers: beware scam

By the way, just a clarification to the above post... the booking site involved in this particular Istanbul case was NOT laterooms.com, which I mentioned in very negative terms, but regarding an entirely different problem. The argument I have with that site is of a far more sinister nature... nothing to do with a rogue hotel seeking to exploit the booking site AND the customer. I haven't yet divulged the name of the bookers for this Istanbul hotel, as they haven't actually done anything wrong -- yet -- except be extremely tardy in what they termed their "investigation". Stay tuned!

Newcastle, Australia
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9. Re: Booking sites with prepaid vouchers: beware scam

Wow, glad I read this. We have used this system particularly in Asia (and sorry I can't remember who asked why one would do so rather than book direct) but the reason we have used third party booking sites was for the convenience as outlined by AlanJ and the fact that we have often got fabulous prices most recently 1/2 the price of booking direct with the hotel.

This is super worrying though.

Sydney
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10. Re: Booking sites with prepaid vouchers: beware scam

It might have been the reference I sent them to this thread about the incident that prompted the following reply that I have just received:

"Thank you for your email and continued patience with this case.

I would like to update you on where we are with this issue and investigation.

I have forwarded a request to the wholesale agent, and been in contact via phone, in order to stress the importance of the issue. I have just finished a call with the hotel to ask for further information directly from them. I have been informed that the hotel's computer/reservations system has been down for the last 5 days, and they expect it to be fixed either today or tomorrow. Despite this, I asked the hotel to check its records for a guest registration card for your booking. Of course, the hotel was not able to locate this, at which time I explained the issue and advised that an explanation is needed. The staff member has noted the case and will work to see what they can get which is not in the computer system.

I then placed a call to the wholesale agent and have spoken to the agent handling the case. She had advised that she is still awaiting a reply back from the hotel on her request, and the delay is due to the hotel's system being down. The agent advised that she will have a reply/result for me tomorrow at the latest. Regardless however, I do acknowledge that this case is taking too long to proceed. As a result, should this not be resolved on the hotel/supplier's side by tomorrow, ........com will take action accordingly.

Once again, I apologize for the delay in coming to a conclusion on this case and thank you for your continued patience. I will be in contact with you tomorrow with the outcome.

Customer Relations Executive"

Isn't it amazing how often, nowadays, when you have an issue with an organisation, their computer system is suddenly, and for a lengthy period, "on the blink", so that they can't possibly be expected to address the problem? And, of course, by the time they are on-line again, no doubt they will find that all the relevant data was unfortunately lost due to the crash! Luckily for me, I have an alibi... five days ago, when their "crash" occurred, I was in Sydney, Australia, where I couldn't possibly have got into their system!