How to spot and avoid becoming a victim of a staycation holiday scam this summer
- The first step is to ensure you are dealing with a reputable firm before booking
- There is a scam used on booking sites such as Airbnb that can cut refunds in half
- Another scam involves taking payments for non-existent properties or vehicles
Every week our Holiday Hero Neil Simpson takes an in-depth look at an important holiday topic, doing all the legwork so you don’t have to. This week: how to avoid a staycation scam.
The staycation summer is set to stretch into September and beyond as holiday firms report high demand for autumn and October half-term. Many say they are attracting an unprecedented number of ‘early-bird’ reservations for next year.
Booking early helps to secure the UK’s best cottages, hotels or holiday deals. But administration errors, sharp practices and scams can put your staycation at risk.
Stranded: Careful preparation and research can help you avoid problems such as double bookings
The first step is to ensure you are dealing with a reputable firm before booking. Don’t rely on a logo on a website that says it’s part of a professional standards organisation. Instead go to the association’s website to check the membership is valid.
Be aware that the schemes may offer only limited support if things go wrong. For example, several cottage rental firms are part of ABTA, the Association of British Travel Agents, which means they abide by its code of conduct.
But ABTA’s flagship financial protection does not apply to accommodation-only holidays in the UK. Double bookings on hotel rooms, cottages, caravans and motorhomes have been a problem this year. They are likely to continue as demand stays high.
Many are genuine mistakes but some are deliberate acts by firms accepting higher offers at the last minute, or owners choosing to use properties or vehicles themselves. Providers should offer similar-standard alternatives or full refunds (not just vouchers) after double bookings.
Unfortunately, there’s no industry standard for extra compensation payments, so you need to make your own demand. Organisations such as Citizens Advice (citizensadvice.org.uk) can help or you can report rogue firms to the Competition and Markets Authority by searching ‘CMA’ at gov.uk and using the form at ‘CMA coronavirus (covid-19) response’.
If you do suffer a last-minute cancellation, be wary of a scam used on booking sites such as Airbnb that can cut refunds in half.
Fraudsters accept bookings, then contact guests directly to report a problem with the property. They tell guests to initiate the cancellation process to get a refund, even though the small print says guests who cancel may qualify for only half their money back.
If you do suffer a last-minute cancellation, be wary of a scam used on booking sites such as Airbnb that can cut refunds in half
To get a full refund, make sure Airbnb knows it’s the host who cancelled, and always communicate with hosts through the company’s messaging system rather than personal emails. That way there is a ‘paper trail’ for potential disputes.
Another scam involves taking payments for non-existent properties or vehicles.
Fraudsters use the cover of coronavirus to say you cannot look at a campervan in person, for example, even if you live locally. They may also say social-distancing rules at their ‘offices’ mean they can correspond by email only. Crucially, scammers say they can only accept bank transfers so you then don’t get the consumer protection that comes from using a credit card.
Trading Standards officers say travel frauds can be convincing and often hide behind professional-looking websites and convincing stories. But if anything about a transaction seems unusual, then the best advice is to book elsewhere.
Insurance can help if you struggle to get refunds or compensation after a staycation disaster. Many home-insurance policies offer free legal helplines. Annual travel insurance also covers most holidays in the UK. Alternatively, with money supermarket.com and others it costs £10 to get a standalone policy offering £500 baggage plus £1,000 cancellation and cover to protect a fortnight’s staycation next year.