Sham Bookings & How to Avoid Them
How to find a Great Vacation Rental in the Orlando Area
There is a phenomenon in the Orlando Vacation Rental Market that a lot of guests get caught by, and when it happens, it means they won’t have the accommodations they thought they had booked to stay in when they arrive in Orlando. These guests don’t lose any money on a sham booking, thank goodness, which is why I call it a sham… rather than a scam.
A scam relieves guests of their money and gives them nothing in return but a financial loss and an emotional hurt. Sham bookings still cost the guests a lot of time, frustration, worry and inconvenience, however, and there is a simple way to avoid sham bookings if you don’t want to be put through any of that just before you are set to leave for your Orlando holiday.
I call this scenario a sham booking, because it doesn’t involve a scam or financial loss, but the guest is lead to believe they have an actual booking to stay in a nice vacation rental, but in reality they actually don’t. It’s smoke and mirrors… a sham.
The difference between a Scam and a Sham Booking
A sham isn’t a scam. It is a booking made by a real guest for a real property from a real owner, who has the dates available and books the guest for the dates that they are after at the price that they agree to.
But unfortunately, the price isn’t enough for the owner. It’s not really the amount that he wants, and he will take it if that is all that he can get. But he will certainly take more if he can do so.
So how does the owner accomplish this? Simple. Take the booking, and then continue to advertise the property at a higher rate. The booked guest won’t see or notice because they’re no longer looking for a place to stay, and the owner just may snag somebody else willing to pay more money than the first guest he has already booked.
So what happens if the owner gets a new booking at the higher rate that he wants? He takes it. Then he raises the rate again and continues to advertise the property at the new, even higher rate. And if he gets that booking, he takes it too! By that point he probably has exactly what he wanted in the first place for his property.
But what about the first or second guests he booked? He waits until just a few weeks before they are scheduled to arrive and contacts them to say; “We have had a sewer leak, or plumbing leak, and I have to cancel your booking,” leaving the guests scrambling to find a new place at the last minute. I’ve even heard of “structural problems” as the excuse given when cancelling the sham booking. The owner refunds the guests any money they have paid, and they both go their separate ways.
Pulling the plug at the last minute is key
Why does the owner wait until the last minute to cancel? Because if the booking was pulled months in advance the guest would question the owner as to why they don’t schedule the repair work at a different time, or complete it before they are scheduled to arrive. The cancellation only works as an excuse to get the owner out of the booking with no questions asked if it happens at the last minute
At least in the sham booking (unlike a scam) the guests don’t lose any money, as the owner will refund any money they have paid,. From that point of view it is better than being scammed! But the guests are still often left with a ruined holiday, or a sub-standard alternative because they didn’t have much choice for good accommodations at the last minute. Often they have to book whatever they can get and unfortunately there are lots of sub-par accommodations in Florida.
Sham bookings work for owners because (just like scam bookings) they prey on people’s desires to pay less for something than it is really worth. It’s a very powerful motivator; just look at how shoppers react to Boxing Day or Black Friday shopping deals. And it blinds buyers to situations which can ultimately cost them.
We consider the practice to be unethical, although owners who do sham bookings don’t feel that way. “They should pay a fair price in the first place and then they wouldn’t lose the place they’ve booked to someone else who is willing to pay more…” they tell themselves.
First or last?
With our properties we are often the first, or the last, to get booked. We’re first if it is someone looking for quality, or a returning guest, because they know for sure what they are getting and understand the value we provide and don’t want to lose their dates to someone else booking first. Occasionally we’re last to get booked, because our rates are higher than many and the cheaper properties will fill up first with people who are either are shopping on price, or don’t know how to tell the difference between good and bad properties and what they are getting for their dollar.
Because we are honest and fair in our approach… meaning we quote a fair sustainable rate that is the amount necessary that we need to cover the cost of operating and providing our properties (Notice I didn’t say making a profit… the rates in Orlando are still way too low for that!) we will occasionally have dates open at the last minute. That puts us in the perfect position to be often hearing from guests who had sham bookings that got pulled out from under them at the last moment.
“I can’t believe that I found such a great place still available!” they will gush with enthusiasm when we speak. They’re delighted to have found a quality property still open when they need it. And in a way… I share their disbelief too, in that our property – offered at a rate that in any other location would be considered an absolute steal – gets overlooked by so many people focused only on the price they can get a property at. This occasionally leaves us still open for what I call a “last minute rescue” where we save some poor soul’s almost ruined vacation. I do love being able to do that. As a result, guests in this predicament actually end up in a much better situation by staying with us, but they sure could have used not finding us under such stressful conditions!
How can one protect themselves from sham bookings?
One of the most important ways to protect oneself from trouble when booking an Orlando vacation rental property is first speaking with the owner by phone before you book. Unfortunately this won’t really help in this case. An owner who does sham bookings is never going to admit to it, even if directly asked. And they are an actual property owner so they can speak to guests and answer questions with confidence. They sound quite convincing as genuine, caring owners.
One could ask the owner if they have ever had to cancel a booking on a guest due to a repair issue (we haven’t since we started in 2009), but there is no guarantee that one will get a truthful answer – remember these types of owners aren’t 100% straight with people. So really, the only way to protect oneself from a sham booking is to simply pay enough for your vacation rental – a fair price that isn’t going to encourage an owner to try to get more for the dates elsewhere.
That means forgetting about getting a “really great deal” and focusing instead on getting a “really great property” from a “really great owner”.
Sham bookings, along with a number of other factors, put downward pressure on accommodation rates in Orlando, both in appearance and reality. Unfortunately we are seeing more and more sham bookings occurring lately, and I don’t know why.
Many guests rarely question why they were able to book accommodations so inexpensively in Orlando.
For an unfortunate percentage who don’t yet know it… they actually were not!
I hope this info is of use to you. Good luck with whatever you choose, and have a safe and pleasant trip!
The new, pandemic-fuelled Sham Booking
UPDATE: As a result of the pandemic of 2020, there has been a rise in another type of sham booking! This one isn’t so nefarious, but it can still upset someone’s travel plans!
People think they have bookings in place, but the properties get sold and are no longer available before the stay happens. This situation is become much more common as a result of the pandemic, which pushed many financially unstable owners into selling. (It should be noted that the pandemic housing boom also has put additional pressure on owners to exit the business.) Many low price operators don’t have the financial strength to hold on through the pandemic downturn, and they are selling properties in a hurry.
They don’t tell booked guests they are selling because they hope to be able to pass the bookings on to a new owner for a commission. Almost all of the sales are going to residential buyers right now, and the homes are going off the vacation rental market. All of the future bookings will be cancelled as soon as the house sells, leaving the guests in the lurch. Again, the guests may not lose any money on the deal, because usually they will get their deposit back, but they lose the booking they thought they had, and are left scrambling to find an alternative at the last minute.
For another great article on booking a quality vacation rental, don’t miss Great Tips for Spotting Bad Properties on Listing Sites!