Q – As we start planning our travels again, and I don’t want to bother you with long weekends and domestic hotel stays, I wonder if you are feeling that handing over credit card info to a hotel website or online booker is reliable these days? In the past, I’ve done it without thinking, but something you once posted made me think that this had once been a problem. Just how secure is online booking? 

A – Actually, glad that you raised this question. Fake hotel sites are a major problem and most consumers cannot identify the real sites from the fake ones. In 2019, the last year for which reliable pre-Covid data exists, there were an estimated 15 million bogus hotel bookings at an estimated value of $1.3 billion. Most “ghost” hotel sites look identical to the real thing. The goal of the ghost sites is collecting your credit card information and it is estimated that the number of credit card numbers harvested by online hotel bookings now exceeds $100 Billion. Many of the online sites are pretending to be located in the States but they are often overseas ventures that sell your personal information to anyone willing to pay. 

There is no reason that you should use a travel agency to book domestic hotels unless you are seeking high-end comp. amenities at a five-star property. But if you do book directly always phone the hotel directly and make certain you are actually talking to hotel reservations and not a ghost service. Tell them you are recording the call and ask specifically if they are “on property”. 

Thank you for raising this important question as most travel consumers are naive about the dangers of online travel purchasing.