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As travellers we have become so reliant on booking sites like Booking.com and Airbnb. Just this week Airbnb has been in the news about guests finding hidden cameras in their apartments, a very concerning issue for family travellers.
As someone travelling full time we use the aggregate website Booking.com almost every single day. They have the largest network of hotels online, have a great interface that allows you to search and they apparently guarantee real reviews only. We only recommend sites we use ourselves and we recommend Booking.com regularly to our readers.
Not anymore! We recently had a bad experience with Booking.com and were dismayed at how it was handled by their customer care team. We are Genius members with them (frequent users) and they still refused to do anything about this scammy hotel. In this post we want to share our experience so you can avoid a similar experience.
Over the next few months, we will be removing our links to Booking.com and replacing them with a better alternative. I will be trying to avoid Booking.com as much as possible from now on and have switched to Hotelscombined and Expedia when making hotel bookings (or directly with the property).
- 1 What We Learned
- 2 Our Experience
- 3 Lesson #1 – Don’t Expect Booking.com to Help You as a Customer
- 4 Lesson #2 – Booking.com reviews are not as real as we thought. Reviews with pay at property booking can easily be manipulated.
- 5 Lesson #3 – Booking.com uses pressure tactics to get you to book.
- 6 Our Verdict
What We Learned
- Booking.com will always take the side of the hotel.
- Booking.com reviews are not as real as we thought. Reviews with pay at property bookings can easily be manipulated.
- Booking.com uses pressure tactics to get you to book.
When we flew into India we had booked accommodation in advance through Booking.com at Hotel Ascent and had organized an airport pickup through them. We arrived late at night and were pleased to see a sign with our names on it amidst the chaos.
When we arrived at the hotel, it had a different name. Under questioning, the clerk said that this hotel (Aero Look) was the same as Hotel Ascent (two different names). We weren’t impressed, but it was after midnight after a long haul flight with three kids and we just wanted to sleep. We paid for our room (it was a pay at property booking) without seeing it (travel fail we know!) and were then shown to a dirty, decrepit room that didn’t even have enough beds.
We then got on their wifi and realized the hotel we booked, Hotel Ascent was around the corner. Paul went to investigate and was told that our room there that we had booked was damaged. He then argued with the Aero Look clerk, who reluctantly agreed to a 10% discount. Before going to bed, we met another couple in the stairwell that had the same thing happen to them – booked somewhere else, but ended up at this grotty Aero Look Hotel.
When we checked out that morning we again complained about this scam and said we would be contacting Booking.com. Later that day we got our Indian SIM cards and I received an email from Booking.com saying that we had been a no show for our stay at Hotel Ascent. It was at this point that I contacted Booking.com by email support to complain about our experience. Since the hotel had marked us as a “no show”, we were not able to leave a review for the property.
I had booked this hotel because it had a 9.0 rating on Booking.com. After this experience, I read through the reviews more carefully and it became obvious that there were many fake reviews propping up their 9.0 rating.
Lesson #1 – Don’t Expect Booking.com to Help You as a Customer
We didn’t expect a refund, but we did want to make sure others were warned about this scammy hotel. After numerous back and forths over email with Booking.com customer support, they maintained that since we did not stay at the property we booked, we couldn’t leave a review. Obviously we wanted to stay at that property and thought we were.
In hindsight, we should have contacted Booking.com as soon as they took us to the hotel with a different name. We didn’t because we didn’t have internet or a local SIM and we were tired and maybe a tad gullible. Lesson learned – if something isn’t right with a Booking.com booking, contact them by phone (use Skype over wifi if you can) right away.
To us, it is obvious that the hotel is running a scam and when we looked at their negative reviews, most people alluded to the fact that the positive reviews must be fake. Read the negative reviews on a property! Also, don’t just rely on the reviews along the left sidebar of Booking.com (these are cherry picked reviews). Instead make sure you click on the tab, “Our Guests’ Experiences” where you can read reviews on chronological order and you can see both positive and negative comments. You may still need to adjust how the reviews are sorted. The default lately seems to be “Recommended” (favourable reviews), so you need to select “Newest to Oldest”.
Booking.com says that their fraud department will look into this property, but they maintain that we cannot leave a review. In addition, “for legal reasons” we will not get any feedback from their fraud department review. How are future guests going to know what this property is doing? Booking.com maintains that a hotel has the right to move you to an alternate property, which would then mean you cannot review the property you booked.
Lesson #2 – Booking.com reviews are not as real as we thought. Reviews with pay at property booking can easily be manipulated.
Booking.com prides itself on honest reviews where only guests who stay at a property can leave a review. Therefore, we have been giving more weight to Booking.com reviews than Tripadvisor reviews, where anyone can leave a review.
However, it is easy for properties to manipulate their ratings by having friends make bookings, “pay at the property” and then leave a fake review.
Meanwhile, Booking.com does not allow a customer like ourselves to leave an honest review of our experience booking with a particular property.
Lesson #3 – Booking.com uses pressure tactics to get you to book.
Over our frustrations with Booking.com, we have done some digging and a common complaint against them is the pressure tactics they use to get you to book. While I was aware of these, this article really highlighted the strategies they use to get you to book.
- Only X rooms left
- 34 other people have looked at this property in the last 24 hours
- Slashed (discount) pricing
- Showing you sold out hotels in your search results
- Bangkok is 80% booked
In fact this article explains how Booking.com was warned to stop using these tactics. While I understand that these tactics are common in the online travel world, users should be aware of them and realize that they aren’t real and are only used to pressure you to book.
I can get over being scammed by a hotel in India, but what I cannot get over is the lack of support from Booking.com. While I can appreciate the value Booking.com adds for travellers, I want others to be aware of its pitfalls. I also want you to read reviews with even more skepticism than you did before. The Forbes estimates that 15% of online reviews are fake and while we used to feel okay relaying on Booking.com reviews, we no longer do.
My advice is to avoid Booking.com if you can. Use HotelsCombined or Expedia or direct with the property when you can. If you do continue to use Booking.com, hopefully these three lessons will come in useful. I have always received excellent customer care from Expedia and can definitely recommend them as a better alternative.
I would love to hear your experiences using Booking.com. Have you had a similar negative experience?
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