How to Avoid the Most Common Hotel Scams


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Staying in a hotel can be a lot of fun, but it is important to be on your guard. From dodgy billing practices to sticky-fingered fake staff, there are many ways that hotels try to scam travellers. Here are some tips so that you can be savvy on your next stay and avoid getting ripped off.

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1. The Front Desk Credit Card Scam

Typically, when you check in at a hotel you will give the front desk your credit card, in order to pay for the deposit and the charges to the room. After you settle in, the phone will ring and the caller will tell you, “This is the front desk. We have come across a problem with your credit card information. Could you please read out your credit card number again – and the last three security digits on the back of your card?”


It is not really the receptionist calling you, but a scammer who has called the hotel and asked to be put through to your room. Usually the hotel will avoid this by asking the caller for the name of the guest, but if the hotel is very busy or badly managed these types of calls might slip through. Often these calls happen late at night, so you are less likely to head downstairs to figure out the issue.

This hotel scam has been around for years, so make sure that you watch out for it on your next trip. The best way to deal with it? Never give your credit card information over the phone, tell the caller than you will come down to the front desk in order to clear up the problem in person. It is very unprofessional for a hotel to call your room late at night for this type of issue, rather than dealing with it in the morning, so the timing of the call should be a red flag.

If you discover that there isn’t any credit card problem, make sure that you inform the manager of the scam.

2. Fake Hotel Booking Sites

Most people book their hotels and hostels online these days, through websites such as Flight Network, Hostelbookers, Agoda, etc. However, be very careful when booking with a lesser known website that you don’t recognize. It will advertise the same hotel, sometimes even at a desirable discount, and will take your credit card payment and give you a confirmation number. However, when you arrive the hotel will tell you that they don’t have a booking for you and that they have never done business with that company.


How can you avoid it? The best idea is to only book your hotel stay through reputable websites and well established companies. If you have never heard of the company before and the prices are lower than the other booking websites, this should be a red flag. If you are not sure, call the hotel and ask them if they do business with that particular booking site.

3. The Unsafe Drinking Water Scam

There are many hotels in foreign countries around the world that will leave signs in the rooms warning visitors that the tap water is not safe for drinking. Bottled water will be available for purchase from the minibar or from the front desk – usually at ridiculous prices.


The problem is that in many of these countries, the water is completely safe to drink and visitors have no need to spend their money on expensive bottled water. In some hotels, you will even be given the water bottles, which implies that they are free, but they will be added onto your bill as an extra charge later.

Make sure that you do your own independent research to find out whether or not you can drink the tap water in your destination, rather than relying on the hotel to let you know.

4. Fake Hotel Cleaners

We all love hotel cleaners – having someone tidy up your space and make your bed for you is one of the nicest parts of being on vacation. However, there are some scammers (especially in Madrid and Barcelona) who have been known to show up at your hotel room dressed in a maid’s uniform and claim that a room inspection is required.


You will be a little bit confused, but one of the scammers will talk to you and distract you while the other one “inspects” the room – but is actually stealing your valuables.

Be wary of any “room inspections” or other situations that sound strange. In any hotel, you have the right to ask the maids not to enter your room if you don’t want to be disturbed. If you are suspicious of a situation, you can always call down to the front desk and ask them if these particular maids are associated with the hotel or not.

5. The Passport Ransom Scam

This scam happened to a friend of mine who was travelling in Vietnam. She found a hotel, looked at a room and was told it was $15 per night. She agreed to that price and stayed for three nights. Unfortunately, when she checked out the hotel changed their story and told her that the price was actually $25 per night.

Since she hadn’t gotten the price in writing, it was her word against theirs. The only issue was, they had asked for her passport upon check-in and now they wouldn’t give it back to her until she paid the full price.


In order to avoid this scam there are two things you can do. First of all, make sure that when you are quoted a price for a room it is written down somewhere. Try to pay it right away so that the price doesn’t change.

Also, some hotels might ask for your passport so that they can record the information – but they shouldn’t be holding onto it. What I do is approach the reception a few hours later and say, “Please can I have my passport back for five minutes so that I can book a flight online?” Then, I simply don’t give it back to them, so they cannot use it as a bargaining chip when arguing over the bill.

These are just a few of the most common hotel scams to watch out for on your travels. Be aware of these dishonest practices, so that you can save yourself from getting ripped off on your travel adventures.

About the Author: Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word. She and her English boyfriend Lee run, packed full with guides, stories and inspiration for those who dream of travel. They have been location independent and travelling the world digital-nomad style since 2011, with no address, no car and no fixed schedule.

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