Ask Amy: Vacation booking site complaints, fake rental ad warning

(Steve Helber, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

A customer hit with surprise fees after booking her vacation online. What can you do if this happens to you? Plus, we have a warning about fake ads for vacation rentals all over common websites.

Help for issues when booking vacation travel

As you look ahead to booking your summer travel, you have probably noticed there are a lot third-party booking websites you can use. We told you about Mont Belvieu mom Dayna Hickman who was frustrated when she was charged unexpected fees after booking a vacation on Vrbo. She ended up canceling the trip and getting a refund.

If you are having issues with an online travel booking website the Texas Attorney General’s Office says before you file any complaints and do these things:

  • Go up the chain of command with the business

If the customer service rep isn’t helping, ask for the manager. Sometimes contacting corporate headquarters is your best bet. Businesses thrive on public reviews so they will usually want to correct the problem for you.

  • File a complaint (or three!)

When the business won’t help file a complaint and don’t stop with just one. You can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, Texas Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau. The BBB will contact the company on your behalf, to try and resolve the issue.

  • Last resort: small claims court

Consumer attorney Ryan Marquez tells us you could also take the company to small claims court if they won’t refund your money. In order to do that, you have to send a warning letter and sometimes just doing that does the trick. (In this previous story Amy explains how to take a business to small claims court.)

What to do if you were tricked by a fake vacation rental ad

The Texas Attorney General website also warns about getting scammed by fake vacation booking ads on the internet. If you found the scam rental ad online or were scammed using the internet, report it to the website where the listing was posted. In addition, report it using the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.

The Texas AG’s website gives helpful advice on how to spot common rental scams.


  • Look at pictures of the rental property and maps of the area before you rent the property.
  • Make sure the property is located near the tourist sites and attractions that you want to visit.
  • Make sure that the person renting you the home or property is the actual owner. If not, make sure they have been authorized to rent the property by the owner.
  • Find out if there have been any complaints about the property owner or listing agent. To do so, contact the state consumer protection office.
  • Contact the real estate licensing agency where the vacation home is located to learn your rental rights.
  • Make sure payment and refund policies are written into your contract. Pay with a credit card so you can dispute the charge for the rental if there is a problem.
  • If you book lodging through an online rental platform, be wary if the host asks you to pay or communicate outside the rental platform.


  • Don’t pay with cash, a cashier’s check, or a money transfer until you are sure that the rental is legitimate. Money sent by wire or transfer cannot be refunded.
  • Don’t forget to carefully examine pictures of your potential rental. Look for signs of tampering or alterations to make the rental look more appealing. You can also reverse image search a picture if it looks suspicious.
  • Don’t answer odd questions about yourself or your family. Your answers could make it easier for scammers to get your personal information.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for reviews, references, or certifications from the landlord or management company.
  • Don’t skip reading the rental contract before you make a deposit.

Summer travel planning help: Here are a few things you can do to save money while booking online travel.

We are getting more questions from you and we love it! If you have a question for Amy and the team, email us at and we will work to find you an answer.

About the Authors:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.

Award-winning TV producer and content creator. My goal as a journalist is to help people. Faith and family motivate me. Running keeps me sane.