New Hotel Scam: Employee Asks Guest To Prepay Reservations, Pockets Money?

A guest booked Marriott’s Hotel La Semilla and wound up getting solicited by the hotel to prepay their reservation via Paypal for a discount. Only the hotel later claimed to have no record of the payment. Did an employee of the hotel scam them? And is this something new to watch out for when you travel?

The guest shared their story and I followed up to get more details of just what happened.

I recently fell victim to a phishing pre-payment scam involving a Design Partner hotel of Marriott in Mexico. It all started when I received an email (from the hotel reservation email) regarding my hotel reservation, offering me the option to pre-pay via PayPal at a slightly discounted rate, along with a welcome drink as an incentive. I completed the payment three months ago and didn’t give it much thought until recently.

Last week, I decided to call the hotel to confirm my reservation, only to be informed by the front desk that no such reservation existed. In response, I forwarded the entire email thread to the same reservations email (that contacted me), which clearly showed my communications with a bad actor who was posing as hotel staff and hotel owner to accept my payment. At this point, over the phone, the front desk claimed that their email had been hacked. However, I’m inclined to believe that there may have been a bad actor at the hotel, possibly even someone at the front desk.

The guest booked a room on Marriott’s website. They also made a second reservation at for a lower rate, and emailed the hotel asking them to match the price for their ‘book direct’ reservation. This is not how Marriott’s ‘Look No Further’ guarantee works.

However emailing the hotel for a better price generated an interesting reply,

  • The hotel would honor a discount, and throw in a drink, if they would prepay.
  • The guest prepaid.
  • The hotel then claimed not to have received any money – or to have even made the offer.

The guest explained to me that the person they communicated with “first posed as the front desk, then as the general manager of the hotel asking me to pre-pay via PayPal.” The hotel explained away not seeing the Paypal-prepaid booking as having been “hacked.”

They got Marriott corporate involved, and the hotel “is now saying they found my PayPal booking.”

[Marriott] told me that the hotel received paypal payment with rate of $666.40 (my Marriott Official booking rate), but I actually Paypaled the person $505.95, as that was the discussed “discounted rate”

Hotel employees do go rogue with reservations. Last month a manager at MGM’s Aria hotel in Las Vegas was arrested and charged with generating $770,000 in reservation refunds – that he put on his own personal credit card. A colleague he’d been dating turned him in because his lavish spending was in no way supportable on a hotel salary.

Here everything was done in writing with the hotel, and someone representing themselves as authorized by the hotel accepted payment so everything should turn out fine for the guest but they’re no longer comfortable staying at the property.

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, 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Wow, it’s good that Marriott corporate got involved and this ended well, but it just as easily have ended badly. Virtually all of these scams involve difficult-to-trace money transfers in one of the following 3 ways: P2P Networks (Paypal, Venmo, Zelle, Google Pay, Apple Pay, etc); Direct Payment Networks (Western Union and similar providers); and Gift Cards (Amazon may be the most common, but these are way too numerous to name). For sure my antennae go way up whenever someone requests payment in any of these venues, Wells Fargo keeps pushing Zelle but I refuse to go anywhere near it.

  2. @TexasTJ. I know some people who use Zelle through Chase but it’s two individuals who know and trust each other. Maybe it wouldn’t go so well if you were dealing with a company.

  3. I bet this “guest” has been swindled before via Amazon, Apple, Norton, car warrenty and other heavily accented phone call scams. Should have known something was up from the start. However, my elderly parents fall from them too…

  4. This happens with too. People post fake hotels on there and then send a Whatsapp message asking for payment. does nothing to stop it.

  5. Good for the customer to back out of this one completely because all sorts of problems are likely to pop up when they show up at the front desk and they are out of options.

  6. A long time ago, I was offered a 10% discount when checking in at a Costa Rican hotel if I paid in cash vs with credit card. I did, but they had taken a manual imprint (remember those?) of my credit card that the guy said he’d tear up. Well, once back in the states, I saw the hotel charge hit my credit card. I disputed the charge and the credit card showed me the imprint credit slip with my forged signature (this was back when everyone had to sign). Hotel also called me & I explained what happened. The manager/owner told me not to worry about it, he guessed who it was – I guess they had problems like this before. My CC refunded the charge. In this day & age (no forged signature to check), wouldn’t this be a he-said-she-said situation if paid in cash?

  7. been having the same issues and emailing people not to pay anything outside their bookings. I got two different emails for booking I have in europe coming up. Then the property sent out emails saying don’t click on anything with links to prepay at a discounted rate.

  8. Yup, just mention ‘free’, ‘discount’, ‘cheaper’ and people will jump right in. Probably the same bunch that argues about carrying your passport because the polizia decide one day to do random checks on the street. Sigh. Too many people leave their brains at home.

  9. Zelle’s fine–just keep in mind it’s intended for dealing with people you know. Treat it like giving someone cash, except it generates a record of having done so. The problem comes when people use it with strangers.

Comments are closed.