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Is Booking.com Safe? Here’s Why You Might Want to Avoid It

So, you’ve worked out where you want to go and now it’s down to you actually booking your next trip. Who you book with is a big decision. You could save a ton of money, you might be able to score extra loyalty points, or, on the flip side, you might get scammed.

One of the most popular sites to book accommodation, flights, car hires, attraction tickets, and more is Booking.com. However, is Booking.com safe? The answer might surprise you and change how you approach booking travel moving forward.

Let’s dive in and find out more.

Is Booking.com Safe?

In my opinion, Booking.com is not a safe site to spend your money and it’s possible to end up in a Booking.com accommodation that is not safe. We’ll go over more about that in a minute.

The Downsides of Booking.com: Why Booking.com Might Not Be Safe

Okay, so we’ve briefly mentioned a few of the negatives to do with Booking.com, but let’s drill down and really get into why it’s not really a safe or reliable site to book on, and why you should avoid it. 

1. False Reviews

It’s hardly news that Booking.com is full of fake reviews. Pretty much everywhere on the internet has some, whether it’s on Amazon, Airbnb, Hostelworld, or the lot. However, it seems to be a lot more prevalent on Booking.com. 

You can often see a ton of either suspiciously similar reviews on multiple listings or a few outlying positive reviews all clustered around one posting date. Literally, if you go on any freelancer hiring site like Upwork or Fiverr, you’ll find gigs that are specifically for review writing on these kinds of sites to boost their search rankings and increase bookings.

2. Incorrect Charges

This is a big one, and something that I’ve actually had happen to me on Booking.com in the past. Now, I’d expect sneaky additional charges from companies like Ryanair, but the incorrect and additional charges on Booking.com are just ridiculous.

When you go to pay, you’re presented with a total price in bold, with any exchange rate pricing underneath it. Under this box, you’ll normally see what looks like a breakdown of the price that includes cleaning fees and admin costs.

This is not included and nowhere on the page will it show the higher cost with everything included. No wonder so many people get scammed by the blatant lack of transparency when it comes to booking. 

For me, I thought I’d booked a place in Naples for $301. Both my husband and I are Genius-level customers and have used the site for years. You can see on the screenshot below that nowhere is the actual price of $513 listed.

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Even when you go onto the payment page, it’s not stated anywhere – so we assumed that the bold top-line price was what we were paying and the box below was the breakdown. It wasn’t until we got the statement from our bank did we realize what happened.

Now this isn’t illegal, or even false marketing because it does say additional charges and it doesn’t say total price, but it is extremely misleading. Be wary of this because as you’ll discover, once you’ve booked, it’s ridiculously difficult to get in touch with Booking.com’s customer service to fix it. 

3. Terrible Customer Service

So, you’ve been misled by the extra charges, or you’ve been scammed by fake reviews on Booking.com. It’s time to get in contact with Booking.com. All I can say to that is good luck. 

I’ve called them on four separate days, totaling around 10 attempts, with each call lasting about 25 minutes. I’ve been hung up on, passed on to a non-existent person, and told that I don’t know the difference between euros and dollars. To say it’s been frustrating is a huge understatement. 

Booking.com said that they’d ask the hotel for a refund, but it was not the hotel that charged me, and I know for a fact that the hotels don’t get the money until the stay is complete/the date has passed. So obviously, the hotel was not willing to refund. 

After so much back and forth with Booking.com agents, they said there was nothing that they could do despite it being their problem, not the hotels’. In the end, I went through my credit card company to dispute the charges, which is a great lesson for why you should always book travel on a credit card and get that much-needed payment protection!

4. They’ve Been Warned By Regulators

Both the UK and Spanish hotel industries have previously sent out warnings about Booking.com. That’s right, they’ve annoyed whole countries at this point! 

For the UK industry, warnings were announced about Booking.com’s high-pressure booking tactics. This was where they’d put that there’s only one room remaining when actually there were a few still left on the site. By doing this, it rushed customers into booking rather than shopping around or waiting for a better price or deal.

In Spain, the hotel industry denounced Booking.com and said that it was ruining the reputation of Spain as a cheap location to visit as it was adding 40% commission on top of the hotel rates! It was effectively pricing many areas out of people’s budgets, with tourists going elsewhere thinking that Spain was now too expensive for them. 

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Alternatives to Booking.com

So, if Booking.com is so scammy and unreliable, where else can you book instead?

Airbnb

Personally, I love Airbnb. Yes, it isn’t without its flaws and sometimes places aren’t what they seem or you might get a rogue host, but the good thing about Airbnb is that their customer service is so good. 

I’ve had scenarios where I’ve been due to drive up to a city and as I’m about to leave, my host has canceled with no explanation. With a quick phone call to Airbnb, I’ve been refunded and they’ve sourced a series of pre-approved, available places in my budget and desired area while I’m on the phone. 

After dealing with Booking.com’s customer service, Airbnb’s protocol was a breath of fresh air by comparison. 

Google Accommodation

If you’re going to use a comparison site, I’d use Google Accommodation. They source prices from so many different sites, including directly from the hotel or hostel’s website. You can compare prices and track rates over time so you can be sure that you get the best possible deal.

Remember when you’re looking through different OTA’s to do your due diligence and check if the individual sites are legit. As always, remember to book on a credit card for extra protection. 

Vrbo

So, Vrbo used to be Homeaway which is like a fancier version of Airbnb, pretty much exclusively for people’s holiday homes. It’s owned by Expedia, so if you’ve got a loyalty account with them or like booking through them, chances are good for your experience with Vrbo. 

In terms of user experience and booking process, Vrbo is very similar to Airbnb. You can read reviews, see plenty of photos, and chat with the homeowner directly on the site. It’s really reassuring to be able to talk with a human every step of the way if you need to – after all, it’s their home, they know best!

Skyscanner

As one of the original hotel comparison sites, Skyscanner is still massively popular. It definitely doesn’t have the scammy reputation that Booking.com has for one simple reason: you cannot book anything directly in Skyscanner, it’s just a portal.

The magic of Skyscanner is the flexibility in searching and the notifications that you can set up. I love that you can just put in your dates and departure airport and select everywhere to see what’s available.

I also love that you can search for whole months to find the cheapest dates to fly or check in on. It makes flexible travel really affordable and really simple.

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What is Booking.com, Really?

Okay, let’s start with the basics. If you’re not aware Booking.com is an OTA or an Online Travel Agent. However, much like Airbnb, Vrbo, or Hotels.com, you can sign up and list your own place.

There’s a mix of holiday homes, hotels, hostels, and B&Bs on the accommodation side of the site. Much like TripAdvisor, travelers can leave reviews, and rate different aspects of the accommodation like cleanliness, value for money, etc., and upload photos that often show the reality, rather than the shiny marketing images on the main listing. 

You can see which rooms are available and book directly on the site, rather than being redirected to another vendor. 

Does Booking.com Have a Good Reputation?

Despite ranking highly on Google, Booking.com’s reputation among seasoned travelers is not good at all. Plenty of governments and regulators have warned Booking.com in the past over its lack of pricing transparency and dubious cancellation policies.

As with every OTA, Airbnb, and Vrbo included, there are plenty of listings on Booking.com that are legit and actually provide good value. The trouble is that there are a ton of dodgy listings mixed in and it’s very difficult to tell which is which.

In addition to this, Booking.com themselves don’t seem to care that their site is full of scammers.

Customer service is pretty much non-existent and if you book on your desktop, you could actually be charged much more for your accommodation or flight than was advertised on the initial listing – and you probably won’t realize until your credit card bill hits!

Does Booking.com Meet Your Expectations?

So, I think it’s pretty safe to say that I don’t think Booking.com is reliable or safe to use. Despite me being a loyal user for so long, the site has definitely gone downhill and quite honestly the customer service is a nightmare to deal with. 

Which is your go-to site for booking accommodation? Let me know in the comments below. 

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