If you find a good deal for a flight on an unfamiliar booking website, don’t press the “check out” button just yet. This week, one family shared their experience booking a flight through a website claiming to be affiliated with Delta, which turned out to be a scam. In the process, the family lost almost $450.
“We’re travelling with a two-year-old, so we were panicking,” Naomi Pull, one of the travellers, told USA Today. Scams like these are common. A week ago, another traveller was scammed out of six round-trip tickets costing nearly $9000, after calling a customer service line claiming to belong to Expedia.
If you want to avoid these online travel scams, the easiest thing to do is to book directly through an airline and verify the page or use a well-known third-party site.
Check the website’s URL and verify the customer support number
Before you book, you should always verify the website by doing an online search; check for any scams associated with the site and do some digging around the site’s “About us” and “Terms and conditions” pages. A website with little to no information might be worth avoiding at all costs.
Also, always check the domain name to make sure it’s authentic, as the Guardian recommends. For example, make sure you’re visiting Delta.com and not DeltaTravel.com (which redirects you to a travel agent’s website) if you're travelling within the U.S..
Make sure to check the top-level domain for “.com,” as “.net” and “.org” won’t be used for online shopping sites. Lastly, check for “https://” when you arrive on the payment page which ensures you’re using a secure website. You should never pay on a website that isn’t secure or be re-directed to another third-party site when processing payment.
If you contact an airline or a booking site’s customer support line, be sure it’s a number listed on their website, likely available on their “Contact us” page. After making a reservation, you should contact the third-party site or airline to confirm your proposed itinerary. You could even confirm while booking your itinerary to be safe.
Make sure there’s a written contract
And if the deal is too good to pass up, make sure to avoid a few common red flags. As TripSavvy’s Mark Kahler writes, don’t pay anything upfront if there’s no written contract in place. “Don’t settle for less,” Kahler writes. “If there’s no record of the promises, you’ll have no way of proving your side of the case.”
While “limited time offers” are a common airline sales tactic, practice a little scepticism when you find especially deep discounts that must be booked immediately. If you are asked to pay at least 60 days ahead of your departure date, that’s generally the limit for disputing charges on your credit card.
And avoid sellers and travel providers that might operate under different names. As TripSavvy also writes, these might be telemarketers or marketing agents that aren’t concerned with your well-being as they are in making a purchase and benefiting the vendor.
And to ensure your safety, always purchase flights with a credit card, as your bank will likely offer fraud protection in the event you’ve booked a fake flight. Never, ever buy a flight with a debit card, which will allow scammers to easily dip into your account and won’t have the same policies as your typical credit card.