Third-party travel sites have been around for over a decade. Since the invention of the internet, these sites have served as online travel agents, letting you search for and book your own accommodation and travel deals. As one of the more well-known sites – is Booking.com a scam, or is it safe to use?
I’ve been using Booking.com for about 10 years as a traveler and digital nomad, staying in over 35 countries and booking everything from hostels to high-end hotels – and during my hundreds of stays I’ve only ever run into problems 3 times. I’ll talk more in detail about those below.
Though the hotel industry attempts to compete with online booking services, it’s difficult for them to keep up with third party sites due to the increasing perks they offer over time. Sites like Booking help you get better deals on your travel experience, offer loyalty programs that provide discounts and freebies, and deliver even better discounts the more you use them.
Booking.com is a third-party site for booking hotels, flights, rental cars, bundles of all three services, plus attractions, and airport taxis. Like other third-party sites, it can be daunting to book with this service or trust that you will not be scammed. Here, we will look at what makes the service reputable as well as a list of pros and cons to using the site.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that no, Booking.com is not a scam site. It is a legitimate OTA (online travel agent) site, where your travel plans are secured. You can rest assured that your credit card is safe while using Booking.com.
I’ve been using this site to book accommodation all around the world as a digital nomad – from Poland to Mexico to Finland – since 2015. It’s often a lot cheaper than Airbnb and other booking sites, and it offers you discounts and added extras on stays and travel the more often you use it.
HOWEVER – there are definitely some things to look out for before you book accommodation on Booking.com, and I’ll talk about these potential scams to be aware of so that you can avoid the frustration of losing money or showing up to a place that doesn’t exist, or wasn’t what you booked.
Background of Booking.com
Founded in 1996 in Amsterdam, Booking.com is available in 43 languages. It offers more than 28 million types of accommodations around the world including hotels, apartments, homes, and more.
How does Booking.com work?
Booking.com (and other OTAs like it) charge the company they are working with a fee for each booking made on their site. By having their businesses on these sites, travel businesses like car rental services, airlines, and hotels, get more traction.
As a customer on an OTA site, the process is easy. For the sake of this example, we will examine how to book a hotel.
First, go on the site and choose what service you are looking for. Then search your location and dates. Booking.com will pull up all of the available accommodations that fit your filters.
Once you have a list of the accommodations available, you can choose which one is best for you. You will be asked to either pay at checkout or input your credit card number to hold the room. The room will be charged to that card once you arrive at the hotel.
Some hotels offer a small discount for paying when you book. This is likely to eliminate cancellations and no-shows as much as possible.
When you arrive at the hotel, you check in under the name you booked with on the Booking.com site. Then you pay for the room, and you are on your way! It is an easy process but can be daunting for a first-timer.
Pros and Cons of Booking.com
- Free cancellations on most rooms
- Clear pricing without hidden fees
- The app is user-friendly, and you can use it to book anywhere in the world
- The Booking.com Genius loyalty rewards system offers good discounts, freebies, and perks like a free hotel breakfast on most accommodations
- They have a price match guarantee and great customer service to back this up
- Occasional mix-ups with the hotel. Some customers report the reservation not going through to the hotel or booking.com not allowing them to change their reservation.
- Online reviews are not always honest and can be easily manipulated.
- May not show the entire total in bold print. Be sure to double-check all the fine print and asterisks to be sure you are getting all the information.
- Potential issues with the cancellation policy because it varies from reservation to reservation.
Booking.com Scams To Be Aware Of
While Booking.com is mostly safe, reliable, and secure to use – there are some things to be aware of.
I’ve only had two bad encounters with using this site since 2015 – and since I travel full time and use Booking.com A LOT, I consider this to be pretty good odds over the last 7 years. I’ve also had some really sweet deals and very enjoyable stays that I booked through this platform.
So these couple of bad incidents have never deterred me from booking through the Booking.com site – they’re just something I keep in mind – always read the reviews for any accommodation before finalizing your booking!
Puerto Vallarta – The room I booked was NOT what I got!
Be cautious of places marked as “”Partner offer” on the Booking.com platform.
I had never come across this before, and it’s not made particularly obvious on the Booking.com website, so it’s easy to overlook this little notification when you’re searching for a good room at the right price.
“Partner offer” means you’re not booking directly with the hotel through Booking.com. The company that handles your booking will be a third party company like Bedsonline.com or similar.
What does this mean for you?
Basically, nobody wants to be accountable with this type of booking – and if you have a problem everyone involved will simply shrug and say it’s not their problem. Bookings wont help. The hotel wont help. And who knows how to get in contact with the mystery “partner”?
This situation is especially bad if you arrive at your hotel late, after a long transit journey, and just want to drop your bags off and get food, or have a quick lie down.
In my case, the room I booked was the complete opposite of what I was escorted to on arrival…
What I booked: Queen bed, balcony, desk and chair for work
What I got: Tiny internal room with NO window (let alone a balcony!), and two tiny single beds. No desk. Barely enough room to put bags down in. This room was literally pitch black as it had zero light. Oh, and of course it smelt horrid because of this.
The whole scenario was an utter disgrace, and scamming people into booking the room is probably the only way this hotel could make money from this shitty space which should have ideally been a janitor’s closet.
What happened next: The hotel reception refused to help because “all the other rooms were booked”. They phoned Booking.com for us, and we talked aimlessly with their support who couldn’t/wouldn’t do anything to help, because it wasn’t their problem.
As we stood in the lobby for an hour and got progressively angrier and hangrier (a long, stuffy, Mexican bus ride from Guadalajara to Puerto Viejo will do that to you), and threatened to leave the hotel a one star review, a “better room” suddenly became available!
It still had two single beds and was a tiny room – but it had a desk and a balcony – and most importantly, air and light. A miracle!
While we weren’t happy at being messed around, it was clear no refund would be forthcoming, and there were no other rooms in nearby hotels available. So we sucked it up and took the better room for 3 days.
Point being here – AVOID “partner offers” if you see them on Booking.com – or go directly to the hotel’s official website and book through them instead of using the Booking.com platform to save yourself any hassles on arrival.
Zanzibar – Bad vibes and death threats!
In 2016 we headed to Zanzibar and booked a cheap and cheerful hostel room that looked okay and had good reviews.
Our taxi driver was making funny looks when we gave him the address to this place, and asked us if we were sure that’s the right place. So we were immediately wondering if we’d booked our first Booking.com disaster.
Spoiler: Yep, we had…
What I booked: Cheap, cheerful private hostel room for two people with a nice outside communal area
What I got: Run down room with two single beds, dirty, thin squabs to sleep on, no mosquito nets, gaps in the windows, and no lock on the door. If you’ve ever been to Africa, you’ll know how important it is to keep a) mosquitoes out, and b) unwanted people out. This did neither.
In addition, there was only one other nervous looking couple there, and the front desk guy looked seriously sketchy. I tend to trust my gut on these things, and we didn’t want to stay even one night here, let alone the 5 that we had booked.
What happened next: We ran away. Literally. We didn’t even unpack our stuff, we just turned around and left. The desk guy yelled a bunch of unfavorable things at us, and said we’d never find anywhere else to stay.
And then, the unhinged emails began!
Desk guy threatened us with all sorts of physical violence (it’s a small island community, so that wasn’t great tbh). I emailed Booking.com and stated our case, and sent them copies of the threatening emails that I’d received.
We were immediately refunded for the full amount of our stay – hurrah!
HOWEVER: Because we got a refund and our booking was cancelled, we COULD NOT leave a review for this place to warn future travelers what to expect. And I suspect many travelers before us went through this exact same thing. Or they got bullied into leaving a good review. I don’t know. Hopefully that place is long gone from the Booking.com platform.
Anyway, we walked to the beach and found a fantastic place to stay right on the sand that was cheaper that the Booking.com hellhole – so all’s well that ended well!
Chefchaouen, Morocco – My booking was cancelled while I was IN the apartment
In 2023, I booked a 2 week stay at an apartment in the tiny mountain town of Chefchaouen. Which, by the way is great place if you’re thinking about visiting.
We decided to arrive at the apartment a few days earlier, so we booked an extra 4 nights in advance with a separate booking.
The apartment was excellent, and a great find, so we were pretty thrilled.
However, on the last day of our initial 4-night stay, as we were about to roll into our 2-week stay booking, we got a message from Booking.com saying that this booking had been cancelled due to a pricing error, and that they required us to pay a significant amount extra if we wanted to keep the booking.
I contacted the host, who was equally confused, as they thought we didn’t like the apartment and wanted to cancel our upcoming 2 week stay!
Here’s a screencap of my conversation with customer service:
As you can see, they wanted us to pay an extra €13.46 a night, which for our 2 week stay would have cost an extra €188.44.
I replied with a message saying we did not want to pay any more for this apartment, as we had already paid in full and were currently in the apartment.
This was their response:
This reply made no sense, as we had not heard anything from the host at this point, and we had not arranged any reservations directly with them.
This was my reply. I received no response from Booking.com after this.
The host was equally confused, as they thought we didn’t like the apartment and were cancelling our stay. They contacted Booking themselves and got no response.
On the positive side, we did receive a full refund immediately so we were able to book other accommodation.
We decided not to rebook this great little apartment, even though the host had kept these dates open for us, at the original price listed – as things felt a bit weird by this point!
From what I’ve read in other reviews and posts on social media, Booking.com does have internal glitches like this from time to time.
While it was slightly stressful, we didn’t lose any money and we got our refund back within a few hours of the initial notification from Booking.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you get Genius status on Booking.com?
After completing two stays booked with Booking.com within two years, you earn Genius Level 1 status for life. This is a low threshold, but the only benefit for a Genius Level 1 is 10 percent off your booking price.
To obtain Genius Level 2 you must complete five stays within two years. There is no Genius Level past two. Perks of Level 2 include free breakfast at select properties, 10-15 percent off booking prices, and a free room upgrade at select properties.
Is Booking.com more expensive?
Booking.com can be more expensive than what you would find on the hotel’s direct site. However, they do offer a price match guarantee. If you would like to book with Booking but find a lower price elsewhere, you can ask them to match it.
Is free cancellation on Booking.com actually free?
Most of the time, yes. However, there are instances where there may be a cancellation fee. It is all laid out for you in the terms before you confirm your booking, so be careful not to miss any of the fine print if you are worried about cancellations.
Each reservation comes with a cancellation policy that is unique to that booking. The service itself, Booking.com, does not have a blanket cancellation policy. It is crucial to check on the cancellation policy in effect for your booking.
I am booking a trip to the EU and/or the UK. Is Booking.com ATOL certified?
No, Booking.com is not ATOL certified.
This does not mean that it is not a reputable source for booking your trips. If you book your hotel and flight in separate reservations through booking.com, you will not need an ATOL certificate anyways since this only applies to package holidays.
Conclusion – Is Booking.com A Scam Or Legit?
To answer a few key questions: Is Booking.com a scam? No. Is booking.com safe for a credit card? Yes. Is booking.com reliable? Yes.
Although there is always the possibility of a mix-up or data breach in the age of the internet, Booking.com is one of the better third-party sites to use.
The key thing to note here is to read all the fine print, and ALL the reviews before you finalize your booking for accommodation on this platform.
With their 25+ years of experience in the industry, Booking.com is a solid option for your next trip. Their wide variety of accommodations and services and top-tier policy transparency for customers are hard to beat.