Six holiday booking scams to avoid

Esther Shaw / 12 February 2016

Don't get ripped off by fake airline tickets, timeshare schemes or travel scams with our guide to six cons that target people booking holidays.



The first few months of the year are some of the busiest times for holiday bookings, as those fed up with the cold, wet weather think about escaping to sunnier climes.

But if you are about to book a holiday, you need to be on your guard, as fraudsters are ready to pounce on those distracted by the excitement of organising a trip to a dream destination.

Five travel insurance traps to avoid.

Here we look at six of the common scams, the warning signs, and the steps you can take to protect yourself.

1. Dodgy accommodation websites

When booking a holiday, you need to keep your wits about your to avoid getting duped by a fake travel website.

A common crime sees fraudsters hacking into the accounts of well-known accommodation sites, or redirecting people to bogus imitations.

If you do book through one of these so-called “clone” websites, you could end up handing over money for a villa or apartment that simply doesn’t exist.

Always check the authenticity of travel providers before booking a holiday, and a do a thorough online search to check the firm’s credentials.

If the company has been defrauding people – or has a bad reputation – it’s likely that consumers will have posted warnings about it.

Also look to see if the holiday provider is a member of a recognised trade body, such as Abta or Atol.

But watch out for “fuzzy” logos for trade associations – as well as for credit card companies – as this could be a warning sign that the site is not genuine. Be sure to do your research before parting with any cash.

Tips on booking holiday accommodation.

2. Fake airline tickets

You need to check – and check again – that the plane tickets you are buying are genuine. If not, you could end up parting with cash for a fake ticket, or a ticket that never arrives. Flights to West Africa are particularly prone.

If the flight prices you are looking at are considerably cheaper than competitors, proceed with caution, as this could be a scam.

You should also be wary if you are offered a discount for paying the whole bill upfront. Most legitimate bookings will require you to pay a deposit, and then the remaining balance a month or so before the trip.

The key is to go with your gut instinct: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Do all you can to ensure you are buying from a trusted and reputable source. Also bear in mind that buying direct from an airline will often work out cheaper.

Read Paul Lewis' guide to spending money abroad.

3. Watch out for fraudsters targeting big sporting events and caravan stays

It’s also worth noting that big sporting events are often targeted by conmen, with sports fans ending up out of pocket on hotels and tickets for events such as the recent World cup in Brazil.

In addition, criminals will often target caravan stays, and will post fake promotions for accommodation on Facebook, as well as advertising websites, Craigslist and Gumtree.

4. Take care before posting holiday details on Facebook

Think carefully before posting any information about your forthcoming trip on a social-networking site, such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, as you could end up essentially advertising the fact you are going to be away.

Fraudsters will trawl sites such as these in search of details about people’s holiday plans, and could then target your empty property while you are away, safe in the knowledge that you are not at home.

If you do want to share details of your travels, be selective about the information you post, and avoid discussing holiday plans on sites which are accessible to the public.

Don't get scammed when making big purchases.

5. Watch out for copycat websites

If you need to apply for a new passport for your holiday, take care not to get caught out by a copycat website. These sites offer access to online Government services, but often charge a premium for a public service which is either free – or much cheaper – when accessed via the official site.

To avoid getting duped, go directly to the Gov.uk site.

Also exercise caution when applying for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) – the card which entitles you to state-provided healthcare either at a reduced cost, or for free.

A host of unofficial sites will offer to help you through the application process – often for a fee of up to £25.

But there is no need to part with any cash, as you can apply for a card for free at Nhs.uk.

How to complain like an expert.

6. Fraudulent resort presentations 

Once you’re on holiday, keep your wits about you if you get invited to a so-called “holiday club” presentation in the resort in which you’re staying.

You may be persuaded into attending by the lure of a “free” holiday.

But if you’re not careful, you could get duped into buying a timeshare – and if you pay by bank transfer or cash, there is often no means of getting your money back.

Read our guide to personal safety for tourists.

Reporting fraud

If you do suffer the misfortune of falling victim to fraud, you should register your concerns at Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

Find out more about Saga travel insurance for the over-50s.

For more tips and useful information, browse our consumer rights articles.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.