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Most Common OTA Travel Disasters

- by Cox & Kings, The Americas

Posted November 4, 2014

Planning trips through any of the online travel agency (OTA) websites, such as Priceline, Kayak, and Expedia, can feel like a quick and easy process that can be completed from the comfort of your own home. However, you can fall prey to some costly surprises if you have not done a little research up front or read the fine print. When you book a trip via an OTA, generally the terms of service contain escape clauses that have titles such as “Website Terms of Use,” “Guarantees,” or “Terms and Conditions.” Not understanding the details can result in money losses or even the loss of an entire trip. Below are some crucial terms and conditions to look for:

• OTA sites can “amend, modify or alter” the terms of service at any time and for any reason. Thus, you should always read the fine print carefully to understand how this might happen.

• Goods and services are sold through an OTA site “as available” and “as is.” This means that the hotel might be overbooked when you try to check in, or your ocean view might be subject to interpretation.

• If a price is advertised incorrectly “due to typographical error or other error in pricing,” the OTA can cancel or refuse the order and charge your credit card accordingly. A $600 vacation can be bumped to $1600 simply because a data entry operator dropped a “1.”

• When you check in at a hotel, the room assignments may be subject to availability and at the discretion of the hotel. You may get a smoking room when you requested non-smoking, or you may be charged for other fees, such as in-room safes, newspaper delivery, housekeeping fees, and parking fees. This must be spelled out in the fine print, but you must search for the details.

• Booking engines have hidden fees at just about every step of the process. This includes additional charges added to “taxes and fees,” which may be simply the OTA’s processing and facilitation charges, government taxes, foreign currency conversion fees, airline fees, and other additional service charges.

• Some OTA’s try to eliminate the surprises by highlighting the fine print or offering price match guarantees. However, even these efforts may have refund limits or time limits for claiming a price match.

Finally, almost every OTA has text that states “no refunds, no changes,” after payment. While you may be able to obtain a refund in cases of external circumstances, such as storms or extreme political events, you may have to fight for it.