When you set about booking a hotel online, make sure you are using the hotel's own website and not an intermediary site with nefarious intentions.
I am currently wearing my frowny face. Please forgive my strong language, but I am miffed. I might even go so far as to say that I'm somewhat peeved (see also What the English Say versus What the English Mean).
The reason for my displeasure is that we (my wife -- Gina the Gorgeous -- and I) have found ourselves the victims of a weird and wonderful hotel scam. Let me explain how this dire circumstance came to be.
As I pen these words, Gina is attending a conference in Pennsylvania. I decided to accompany her so we could make a fun road trip out of it. Since we were driving, this meant I could bring a couple of large computer monitors, so I'm now ensconced in the corner of our hotel room that I've set up as a mini-command center surrounded by computers and screens.
Gina goes to the lectures in the daytime while I work here in our hotel. I join her for supper in the evenings at the campus where the conference is being held. This is followed by a couple of hours of singing and dancing (I only wish someone else would join me in these activities LOL).
I left Gina in charge of making the arrangements, including reserving the hotel (remember that all these booking activities took place about six weeks ago at the time of this writing). Someone had told her that the Courtyard Marriott in Mechanicsburg, PA, was a good place to stay (this has certainly proved to be the case), so this is what she used to perform a Google search on her computer. I just performed the same search, and this is what I saw:
(Source: Web browser screenshot)
The first entry is marked as an advert, but the associated URL is courtyard.reservationcounter.com. This is a really clever name when you come to think about it, because it leads you to assume that you will be taken to the hotel's reservation counter. If you click on this link, as Gina did, you are presented with what appears to be the Hotel's website:
(Source: Web browser screenshot)
Actually, I think this is the hotel's website, but it's being rendered inside the nefarious Reservation Counter realm. The only giveaway is the "Reservation Counter" logo in the upper-left corner (I added the red ellipse in the above image), but -- if you aren’t really thinking about it -- this just serves to confirm that you are at the reservation counter.
Gina used this website to book us in for a 7-night stay. I must admit that alarm bells should have started ringing in my head when Gina told me that her credit card had been charged in full. Sad to relate, I failed to pick up on this.
We arrived at the hotel last Sunday evening and said we had a reservation in the name of Maxfield. The guy behind the counter tapped away on his computer, then tapped away some more, then asked us to spell our name again, and eventually informed us that there was no such reservation.
Bummer! Fortunately, there were some rooms available, so we weren't reduced to sleeping in our car. Once we were in our room, we looked at the confirmation email on Gina's computer. This is when I started to spot Reservation Counter's slimy trail.
After a substantial amount of rooting around, multiple phone calls, and numerous trips to the hotel's reception desk, it turned out that Reservation Counter had, in fact, made a reservation for us. However, since this is all done under-the-hood by computers, the reservation was in the name of ANDCLIVEMAXFIELD/GINA (Gina had booked us in as "Gina and Clive Maxfield"), and the hotel's system wasn't sophisticated enough to make the connection.
This means that, had Gina just made the booking under the name "Gina Maxfield," we would probably have never even realized that any of this was going on. Further investigation revealed that Reservation Counter actually made the booking using Priceline.com, which is a tad more reputable, and which doesn’t sound any alarms at the hotel.
The bottom line is that Reservation Counter charged us a 25% surcharge -- that's 25% more than the price we would have paid going directly to the Courtyard Marriott's website (which is what Gina thought she was doing). Even worse, I just went to the front counter to say we would be checking out a day early, because we want to have the time to stop off on the way home to see the Great Stalacpipe Organ in the Luray Caverns in Virginia (see Pass Me My Spelunking Cap).
If we had booked directly through the hotel, our credit card wouldn’t be charged until we left, so we wouldn’t have to pay for the night we aren’t staying. However, since we booked and pre-paid through Reservation Counter + Priceline.com, there is no refund (a little tear is rolling down my cheek as I pen these words).
Of course, Gina now feels that she's been conned, but it's really not her fault. I do more travelling than she does, so I tend to book more hotels and plane flights, but I can see how easily one could be taken in by this sort of thing. In fact, a quick Google search for "Reservation Counter Scam" makes you realize that this is a prevalent problem; for example, take a look at Third-Party Hotel Booking Sites Can Mislead Consumers on the New York Times and You’ll Have Reservations About Your Reservations When You See This on the Huffungton Post.
How about you? Were you already aware of this, or is it all new to you. And have you been taken in this way yourself (have you only just realized that you might have been taken in this way yourself)?
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting