Travel Agency Scam: Take Customer Money, Don’t Actually Book Their Travel

I’ve written about the resort fee scam, hotels hiding the ball on how much their rooms really cost so they show up better in online search and when you’re comparing two potential properties.

But what about actual fraud? There are supposed travel agents online that will sell you packages, hotel rooms, tickets for activities. They will charge your card. You’ll show up, and they’ve simply taken your money and not booked anything for you. You have a paper confirmation that doesn’t mean anything.

With the number of horror stories I’ve gotten from readers over the years you might think that online site is called “Expedia” but it isn’t. It’s something you’ll find come up from time to time, and one of the things to watch out for booking through a site you’ve never heard of before.

OBL Travel sold packages to the ‘Essence Festival’ and at least 100 customers turned up in Louisiana only to find no accommodations, no concert tickets, no access to VIP parties.

The agency’s owner even sold travel insurance for these non-existent items. The travel insurance of course was also made up.

  • Initially she was going to receive a 12 year sentence, with 3 years’ suspended.
  • However after hearing from victims the judge imposed a 15 year sentence, 6 years’ suspended.

That’s the same 9 years in prison but three of the years will be on active probation and she’ll enter into a plan to make restitution to victims.

No one should ever buy travel from an agency using the initials of Osama bin Laden. Even if travelers don’t realize that (it’s amazing it’s been 19 years since the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole and 8 years since bin Laden was killed), travel agents should certainly know better. Other agents booked Essence Festival packages through OBL Travel on behalf of their customers.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. This happen to me a few years ago. I believe I went to hotel.com and not hotels.com (hotels.com now owns hotel.com). When we got to the hotel it was a shrug of the shoulder and an I’m sorry but there is nothing we can do. Cost me about $300 but it was Canadian so it wasn’t so bad 🙂

  2. So Gary do you have any recommendations for how we can verify that smaller and lesser known OTA’s are legitimate when booking tickets through websites like Momondo?

    Do you think it safe to assume that any OTA that shows up in an aggregator’s list is legitimate?

  3. Booking.com is running scam a with Traders Hotel Kuala Lumpur. Tried to book Traders Hotel for two nights in Sept 2019. Next morning got a message (from Booking.com) saying there is a problem with Credit card and gave a link to correct the problem. Went to the link and it re-booked us for the same room and dates. Again there was a “problem” with the credit card. Contacted Capitol One Visa and was told there had been no contact from either Booking.com or Traders Hotel. We,then, booked through Visa Concierge for the same two night for the same room. The credit card was accepted and we were sent confirmation number from Traders Hotel. Then, Traders Hotel sent us an email saying we owe them for the four nights that never went through. Traders explained they have a strict no cancellation policy no exceptions ever! We now, according to Traders Hotel, have three separate reservations for the same room for the same two days in September! We have been told we will be required to pay three times.
    We have email from Booking.com saying that we are not confirmed because there is a problem with our credit card.
    Booking.com said they would contact Traders hotel on our behalf to get the reservations that never went through removed from our account. A few hours later Booking.com emailed us saying Traders will not remove the charges for reservations that never went through.
    Meanwhile Traders Hotel is saying there are no refunds and no cancellations (even for reservations that never went through). They say we owe for three reservations for the exact same room for the exact same two nights.
    It looks like Booking.com is working with Traders Hotel to rip off whomever they can.
    We had read the Traitors Hotel policy before attempting reservations. Didn’t like it but their are no other option with this hotel. We hadn’t a clue that these two companies working together , would see to it that we couldn’t make a “single” reservation.

  4. Theodore,

    I would suggest going higher up the ladder at Booking.com. They are a legitimate business. The person you were speaking with was probably the lowest rung on the ladder telling you what the book says to say. During your conversations with higher ups, detail the paperwork back to them and them imply that a small claims suit as well as bad mouthing the with every blog out there will get them to see the error of their ways. Go all the way to CEO if necessary but one step at a time.

  5. Agree with the punishment for this fraud. But also exposes problems with our criminal justice system when Brock Turner was sentanced to 6 months and served 3 months in jail for the brutal rape of an unconscious woman.

  6. As an ex-travel agent, I can attest that sometimes the client is absolutely certain that they want a product from XYZ company. As a travel agent, you can try your best to dissuade them, but ultimately it’s their money.

  7. They used to have regulations to prevent this type of stuff. What happened?

    To HoKo’s point, how do you verify that smaller and lesser known OTA’s are legitimate when booking tickets through websites like Momondo in a world without regulations?

  8. Thank you Howard. I have a whole series of emails from Booking.com explaining to me how they tried to reason with Traders Hotel but Traders said no and there is nothing Booking.com can do about being triple charged for the exact same room for the exact same two nights. This is ignoring the fact that it is Booking.com who caused the triple booking. I have contacted my credit card and believe they will not let this stand. Booking.com is not located in my country so I doubt they care at all as they get a cut of at least two of the pseudo reservations.

  9. I’ve been screwed by Egencia a few times. Now book directly with the airline, hotel and rental. Screw me once, shame on me. Screw me twice, shame on you.

  10. Circa 2017 I found on TripAdvisor a Website (I believe it was otel.com –without the H,) which was offering rooms at the Sawridge Hotel of Jasper, Alberta, Canada which were sold out on all other Websites incl. Sawridge.com ! I smelled a rat and Googled them, where I found other people had been conned by them, booking non-existent rooms! So I found somewhere else to stay.

  11. @B1BomberVB

    I have booked through Otel.com a few times and never had any problems. I was admittedly a bit nervous and googled them before booking but everything went smoothly.

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