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Soon after my booking, a person posing as the accommodation provider contacted me and prompted to cancel my reservation on the basis that the reserved room (allegedly) became unavailable. Obviously I am unwilling to pay the cancellation fee under this condition. My request to cancel without a fee doesn’t go through although it was registered by Booking.com. The person posing as the accommodation provider claims that no such request exists.

I asked Booking.com support for help, to no progress yet (more than two hours gone). Probably I’ll visit the property in person to resolve the issue whether my reservation is valid; note that I didn’t see anything about cancellation by the provider via the chat in Booking.com. But (in the case that the accommodation provider fails obligations) we have a problem: Booking.com is an Internet-oriented business and can’t observe the situation on the ground, at least not directly. If the proprietor and I each claim that the other party is lying, how can an Internet body determine which party is at fault? Which tools should I prepare for the encounter IRL? What precautions should I take? Note that I am an alien in the country of stay.

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  • It may make a difference, so which country is the accommodation? (And remember that it is weekend in most of the area where Booking.com is active, so likely nobody in the office right now.)
    – Willeke
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 16:40
  • If the website doesn't help you, then your next recourse would be a charge-back on a credit card. (You did use a credit card to book didn't you?)
    – Peter M
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 16:46
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    @Willeke: This is Armenia. And do you think that a reply from the support has been purely bot-generated? Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 16:49
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    Some accommodation providers advertise on more than one site, it’s not impossible that they had accepted another reservation from a different site and hadn’t (got round/had time to) updated availability with Booking.com
    – Traveller
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 17:12
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    @Traveller: my problem is not as much the bad reservation as the bad cancellation. Ī̲ suspect that crooks (either corrupt staff or the proprietor themselves) try to charge unlucky clients for nothing. Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 17:24

2 Answers 2

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This is probably some sort of scam, though probably a mild one. First check that the person who contacted you knows the details of your accommodation. If so they probably are the property owner.

The most likely scam is that they will try to persuade you to cancel your booking and promise that they can set you up with alternate accommodation without using Booking.com. This may be just an attempt to avoid paying Booking.com its commission (still a scam) but it may be worse. Even if they say "This is just so I don't have to pay Booking.com" doesn't mean they won't also try to scam you. In fact if they are prepared to scam Booking.com they are probably prepared to scam you too. This "new accommodation" may be much worse than the advertised one. It may not exist. Or when you get there they may charge you all sorts of extra charges, which you are no longer protected against because you didn't book through Booking.com. The original accommodation may or may not have ever existed and may or may not have been available.

Contact the proprietor through Booking.com. Ask about the message you received. Maybe it is not them. If it is, do further communication through Booking.com. Don't reply to other forms of communication except to say you will talk to them only through Booking.com. Don't listen to their excuses as to why they don't want to do that.

Do not cancel the booking. The proprietor is able to cancel the booking themselves if they need to. That way you won't be charged and it will be clear who made the cancellation. There is no need for them to ask you to do it.

Report the communication to Booking.com Proprietors are not supposed to contact you except through Booking.com, at least partly to prevent this sort of scam. Reply to the proprietor and tell them to go through the cancellation process with Booking.com. Do not accept any reasons from them as to why they shouldn't do this. Just keep telling them to go through Booking.com. Send every communication you get to Booking.com.

Arrange yourself alternate accommodation. Do it through a reputable booking site. Do not accept any offers of alternative accommodation from the person who contacted you. Don't listen when they tell you it will be cheaper if you do it through them.

Given your report Booking.com will likely not charge you for the cancelled accommodation. If they do, complain to them and dispute the charges.

Don't visit the location. What would be the point?

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    Note that it is possible the proprietor only wants to scam booking.com out of their fees and is actually willing to offer you the accomodation as promised for the same price but booked directly. This doesn't change anything about your answer though.
    – quarague
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 6:09
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    True. But if they are prepared to scam Booking.com out of their fees, it's a very small step to adding an "additional charge" that they hadn't told you about, payable when you arrive. Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 13:13
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    @quarague: Why should OP trust a proprietor who is trying to scam the party that OP is relying on to mediate their interests and the interests of the proprietor in a way that's at least nominally fair? Trying to frame the party providing the customer's safety as a thieving middleman it's okay to scam is a big red flag. Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 14:14
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    @Joshua to be fair, the fault for that kind of overbooking should be on the hotel. They can take it down from booking.com before booking it by phone, for example. And if that's not worth it for the hotel, they can "eat" the cancellation cost on the rare occasion that overbookings happen, not dump it on the customer.
    – Esther
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 18:25
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    @Joshua That's no bug. Booking.com is trying to force hotels to / punish hotels for not / doing ALL their business through booking.com. There would be bupkus competitive advantage for Booking.com to fix that and have their platform be synchronous in real time with whatever else the hotel uses, Travelocity and every other vendor in the space. That said, no question the hotel is trying to pull the customer off the platform so they can gain the customer without paying referral costs. This is a constant thing on eBay as well. (and also to pull them off the platform's customer protection). Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 0:47
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To give some background to the other excellent answer...

Normally, hotels are doing a 2-way trade with booking platforms like Booking.com. The hotel gets a valuable booking, and in exchange they must give to the platform:

  • Fees, which are effectively a sales commission or referral fee.
  • Grant a high level of consumer protection to the customer, who is, after all, also the platform's customer. Therefore also:
  • Payment is handled through the platform
  • Payment is delayed for awhile so the customer has time to get home and report problems.
  • ALL messaging must be done through the platform, so it can be logged and used to resolve disputes.

Naturally hotels enjoy the referrals but dislike holding up their end of the bargain.

So that's why they're trying to "pull you off the platform" and get you to deal direct. Even a legit hotel would like to be paid faster. However, this also degrades your options if they do rip you off, which is why this maneuver is favored by scammy hotels.

It's also conceivable that the hotel's email was hacked, or that a fake hotel was loaded onto booking.com, and the direct payment would go entirely to literal scammers.

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