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Booking a hotel online? Use this site to avoid scams

Hotels and online travel agencies (OTA’s) have been engaged in a battle for the last couple of years, making it hard for travelers to know the safest source for booking hotels.

On one side you have the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), which says there are nearly 15 million online booking scams every year, including undisclosed credit card charges, incorrect accommodations and lost reservations. The AHLA claims that the fraudulent activity occurs on seedy third-party sites that dupe customers into undesirable deals, costing  travelers $1.3 billion every year.

On the other side you have legitimate online travel agencies, like Priceline, Orbitz, and Kayak, touting their ability to save consumers money. They blame a few rogue third-party sites for giving OTA’s a bad name by posing as hotel sites and misleading or scamming travelers.

The fact is travelers don’t care where they book, they just want security, convenience and the comfort of knowing they’re getting the best deal.

Enter Room Key, an online travel site that gathers hotel rates from major chains, and lets travelers compare prices before directing them to the hotel’s actual website when it’s time to book.

Like other third-party sites, Room Key receives a commission from hotels for every room they book, but because the reservation takes place on the hotel’s site, it is more secure.

“Customers know that there are no hidden fees, and they know that the data they provided is going to be protected,” Room Key CEO Steve Sickel told Yahoo Finance.

The site was created in 2012 by six of the world’s largest hotel companies: Hilton Worldwide (HLT), Hyatt Hotels Corporation (H), InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), Marriott International (MAR), Wyndham Worldwide (WYN), and Choice Hotels International (CHH). Users can search for hotels that are a part of one of these brands as well as non-founder hotels like Best Western.

Most hotel brands have a loyalty program where members get perks like free Wi-Fi and discounted rates. These benefits are only advertised on the company’s page, and only apply to reservations made on the hotel’s website. So if you you’re a member of several loyalty programs (and you should be because they’re free), and wanted to check for discounted rates, you’d have to visit each hotel’s websites individually.

Room Key solves that problem: It negotiated deals with 60 major hotel brands to access loyalty rates— totaling nearly 30,000 rooms around the world. It’s the first site to advertise loyalty member rates all in one place.

But just because booking on Room Key, which is currently only available on desktop, shows you deals from hotels, it doesn’t necessarily promise to give you the lowest rate online.

For instance, Room Key shows a room available at the Hyatt Place in Downtown Nashville for $294 a night, which includes the loyalty member discount. The reservation can be canceled 24 hours prior to arrival and is eligible to earn points in the Hyatt rewards program. But when you start comparison-shopping, you’ll see other sites have different arrangements. Orbitz has the same room for $278 a night. It’s non-refundable and the reservation will not earn points in Hyatt’s Gold Passport loyalty program – but it’s still cheaper.

Meanwhile, the Holiday Inn Express in Downtown Denver is going for $173 a night on Room Key. The same room is available on Orbitz for $180 a night, is non-refundable and won’t earn you any rewards points.

Ultimately, Room Key’s rates are competitive and simply provide consumers with another tool to take back some control when it comes to booking. Using it in conjunction with other services will ensure you’re getting the best deal possible on your next hotel reservation.

Have you ever been scammed when booking a hotel online? Email us at yfmoneymailbag@yahoo.com.