Travelers beware: Online hotel booking scams

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Booking hotel reservations online may be convenient and cost effective, but a market full of tricks may be waiting to scam travelers looking for a quick deal.

Vacation season is approaching, and vice president of the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association Kristen Jarnigan has some advice for travelers about what to watch out for and how to avoid these online hotel reservation scams.

Jarnigan says that the online hotel booing industry is full of rogue vendors, false advertising and consumer abuses. Many bad deals are disguised as "discounts," and third party websites aren't always reliable.

"It looks like it might be the hotel website, but in reality it's this rogue third party vendor that you've never heard of, and they're pretending to be the hotel," Jarnigan says. "It's designed to look legitimate."

Jarnigan warns that many travelers can easily be fooled by sites that look professional and trustworthy, but are not affiliated with hotels. Third party sites might change their names frequently or use trademarked logos and pictures to convince travelers that they are purchasing through a legitimate site.

Once you've booked through a third party vendor, the hotel will not give you a refund if the reservation doesn't live up to expectations. Third party reservations cannot be canceled or altered to accommodate requests like handicap access or other amenities.

These third party sites might also be a dangerous place to give out credit card and other private information. Booking directly from hotels often ensures secure information transactions, as they have a responsibility to protect this data.

Some third party booking sites offer customers "rewards" programs that they claim are associated with the hotel, but often times are little more than worthless points for a third party dealer.

Keep an eye out for fishy third party sites, and when in doubt, make travel reservations directly through your hotel or hospitality company.