Everything is possible online nowadays: reading newspapers, ordering books and clothes, flirting, checking out recipes – and of course booking vacations online. Hotel comparison sites are immensely popular, every airlines offer online booking services, and instead of combing through endless travel-agency brochures, you now simply visit Expedia, Opodo or Travelocity. While it’s all very easy and convenient, it isn’t without its risks. Whether it’s a dodgy low-cost website which goes bust before your vacation starts or a seemingly harmless invoice attached to an email which is infected with a virus – at Avira we find that a little caution goes a long way.
Many problems with online booking stem from legal issues. In some instances, the difference between provider, organizer or contracting party is not clear to the customer. In case of questions and complaints, it is important to know whom to contact. Whether you can even make any claims and how easy that is differs immensely depending on the location of the company you signed the contract with. On top of that, costs often aren’t as transparent as they could and should be, with hidden additional transfer costs or trip-cancellation insurance suddenly selected on the final page before the last confirmation click without it ever being mentioned beforehand.
Low-cost portal or not, no operator offers its services for free. The cheaper the offer, the greater the risk that the small print conceals hidden costs. Free hotel room? Perhaps a minimum stay is involved, or you need to pay service and agency costs. Extremely cheap flight and accommodation? There may be compulsory shopping trips planned involving visits to carpet makers, jewelers, and leather factories.
Internet transactions always involve risks – even if they have become safer over the years. You should always transfer money over an encrypted connection. For that, the online travel agent has to offer a SSL-secured Web session. Operators usually make a specific point of mentioning this at the virtual checkout, but you can also tell the session is encrypted by the little padlock icon or the different color of the Web browser’s address bar. This type of encryption is extremely secure and cannot be cracked without a reasonable amount of effort – effectively meaning no risk is involved.
However, other risks are beyond the user’s control. Hackers often manage to crack the websites of legitimate online travel operators. In 2005 the Japanese tour operator Club Tourism had to admit that hackers had stolen the information of over 90,000 customers. In 2009 a website in the USA which government officials use to book travel was compromised. And only in April 2013 Traveltainment, a subsidiary of the Amadeus Group, had to concede that hackers had broken into its servers and stolen the personal details, including payment information, of an unknown number of customers. This theft caused harm when customers opened their emails containing phishing software which the thieves were able to send as they knew the customers’ email addresses and booking details. A comprehensive security software solution like Avira Antivirus Pro offers protection against such attacks and should therefore be a staple on every computer.