Considering booking a flight with Booking.com? Wondering whether Booking.com is legit, trustworthy and safe to book flights with? If so, this post is for you.
Up until a couple of weeks ago, I had no reason to suspect any issues when using Booking.com. I’d been using the site for hotel bookings for over 15 years and have never had any issues. I even used to be a Booking.com affiliate and promoted them on my website! That said, I’d never had to contact their customer service department that entire time.
I’d never tried booking any flights with them, either. In fact, I didn’t even know they handled flights at all. But recently I had to book a flight that was too expensive to book directly with the airline and thought I’d do the next best thing: book with a website I’d booked with many many times before with no issues, a site I can trust.
But travel is always about discovery, and what I discovered was that in the New Normal, all bets are off and you can’t trust any company anymore, no matter how good you thought they were before. I can no longer recommend Booking.com.
I also discovered that when you book flights with Booking.com, you’re not actually getting Booking.com at all. Booking.com’s site and brand are effectively just a front, building on the site’s increasingly undeserved past reputation to connect you to the booking system of far worse sites owned by the same parent company. Below are answers to common questions about booking with Booking.com. But first, I’ll tell you what happened to me.
The Booking.com scam-like experience
Money for nothing
I booked a return flight on Booking.com, using Paypal. The first email I received was from Paypal, telling me I’d authorised Booking.com to charge me for the amount I’d specified. Shortly afterwards, I received another email confirming Booking.com have charged me.
Unfortunately, as I was in the middle of work, my brain registered this second Paypal email as confirmation that I’d been booked. After all, they were waiting to charge me, then I got charged, which to me implied that they’d managed to book the tickets with the airline.
WRONG! A couple of weeks later I went to check my flight times. I searched my gmail account for any reference to the booking, and all I found were the emails from Paypal. After logging into my Booking.com account, I couldn’t find any reference to my booking there either. And this is where the fun started.
Zero Customer Service
If you try to contact Booking.com through their site about a flight booking, you’re told you can’t get help, because they only handle hotel bookings. Instead, they provide you with a US number to call (I don’t live in the US). I Googled and found a local number, but that number hangs up on you unless you have the reference number and pin number, which I obviously didn’t have, as there was no record of my booking. Turns out the US number sends you to an Indian call centre.
I spent over 10 minutes on an international call as the agent searched for my booking. the quality of the VOIP and the agent’s grasp of British English were so poor, much of it was me having to use the phonetic alphabet to spell everything down to “gmail”. In the end she just said “Your booking doesn’t exist, contact your bank” and hung up. No offer of a refund, no apology, nothing.
While on the phone to India, I discovered that Booking.com’s flight call centre actually goes through to Mytrip and Gotogate’s call centre, as they’re now apparently all the same thing.
Mytrip and Gotogate are both terrible companies with really bad reviews and I never would have booked with them. Only apparently I just did. Check out what the Internet has to say about Gotogate and Mytrip. They are literally the worst.
Fight for your refund
Once the shock subsided, I opened a dispute with Paypal (who I’d thankfully booked with).
It seems Booking.com use Paypal disputes instead of customer service, as within a few days I received another Paypal email saying I’d received a refund from Booking.com. To this day I’ve never received anything from Booking.com themselves about this.
Had I not checked my booking with plenty of time, I could have discovered this last minute and not been able to get an alternative flight in time.
Booking.com basically charged me before ensuring they could actually deliver the service I had paid for. When they found out they couldn’t, they did nothing to inform me and held onto my money until I made them give it back. This is apparently common practice for them with both flights and hotels. Just look at what happened to these poor women when Booking.com failed to notify them their hotel reservation was no longer valid, or this Forbes journalist and their friends who got stuck without accommodation in Turkey.
Is Booking.com legit?
Bad travel websites like Booking.com advertise prices for flights and hotels, take your money first, and only then try to book your ticket at that price with the airline. Sometimes that order doesn’t go through or is refused, but the website won’t update you and will keep your money unless you make them give it back. Sometimes it can take many months for this to happen.
If flights are cancelled by the airline, you might not get notified, or you might have your flights changed without your consent. The company’s excuse for customer service is fully outsourced and designed to get rid of you, rather than to help you. You’ll get over the top apologies from customer service staff, but no actual help. If you’ve read about my experience with trip.com then this will be all too familiar.
Booking.com used to have a good reputation. Is this because fewer people had to contact their customer service department in the Before Times or because they used to offer decent customer service? No idea. All I know is that they are impossible to deal with right now.
So is Booking.com a scam? Depends on who you ask. The site is set up to sell and deliver bookings, rather than just steal your money. But their shoddy practices, incompetence and lack of customer service make them indistinguishable from an actual scam.
Who is Booking.com affiliated with?
Booking.com is owned by Booking Holdings, which now also owns the Swedish eTraveli group, owner of Mytrip, Gotogate and other dodgy travel companies known for their lack of customer service. When you’re booking flights with Booking.com, you get to “enjoy” the same level of “service”, as they use the same lousy booking system and the same outsourced call centre for all their flight bookings.
Is Booking.com reliable for flights?
Based on my experience, absolutely not. This is supported by the many one star reviews they’ve been getting online. People are really unhappy with the way Booking.com handles flight bookings and many are left waiting for a refund that never comes, even though Booking.com took the money and didn’t provide a service.
Is Booking.com ATOL protected?
Booking.com is not ATOL or ABTA protected. It’s also not based in the UK, which means that if you want to sue them, you’ll have to jump through a bunch more hoops now the UK is out of the EU. The good news is that the company is based in Europe, where there are stricter rules about what businesses can and cannot say or do. This means that if you do manage to jump through the legal hoops, you’ll do better than when dealing with Chinese companies like trip.com.
Can Booking.com cancel your reservation?
While it’s usually not Booking.com themselves who cancel your reservation, you may find it’s been cancelled without notice at any given point. This is because they take your money without confirming the reservation. If the hotel then raises its prices or rejects the reservation, you may not be informed. People have turned up to their booked hotels in the middle of the night only to find that their booking has been cancelled months before. While the hotel may refund Booking.com for your booking, Booking.com will not automatically refund you.
Is it safe to use Booking.com?
Reading through reviews and articles about Booking.com, I would say it is no longer safe to use Booking.com. From this story about women who got stranded in a foreign country without a hotel because of a Booking.com screw up to this family that got charged, only to discover on arrival they had no reservation after all, there are countless stories about Booking.com screw ups that are not dealt with.
This is shocking for me, as I used to book with them all the time and even advertised them on my site for years, but apparently they’ve seriously gone downhill and no longer care about their customers at all.
If you still want to book with Booking.com for some reason, use a credit card if you have one, or Paypal. With a credit card you can do a chargeback if Booking.com fail to provide the service you paid for and get the money much quicker. While not legally bound in the same way as a credit card, Paypal are usually pretty good with opening disputes and getting your money back in such cases. They’re also probably used to this type of dodgy companies by now.
With flights, check for a confirmation email with the reference number and pin, and contact the company immediately if it doesn’t arrive within a few days. Don’t book last minute flights with Booking.com.