22 Jan 2024

Could scammers turn your holiday deal into a holiday steal this January?

  • Nearly 6 in 10 don’t know or aren’t sure how to check if a travel agent, tour operator or holiday booking are legit
  • Nearly a third of people would rush into booking a break without checking if they spotted a great deal
  • 14% use social media sites to book holidays and 9% have booked a holiday after an influencer has posted
  • Nationwide’s Scam Checker Service protects people who are unsure about making a purchase by assessing it

With January being primetime for booking holidays, Nationwide is urging people to be alert to the risk of being scammed out of their hard-earned vacations.

Criminals target holidaymakers by placing fake ads on holiday websites or pretending to be a booking agent from a legitimate company. In many cases they will try to move the communication away from the genuine holiday websites and will try and get people to make the payment to an individual rather than a company via bank transfer.

New research from Nationwide, as part of its scam prevention efforts, shows that more than half (58%) don’t know or aren’t sure on how to check if a travel agent, tour operator or holiday booking is legitimate or not. Adding to the risk of being scammed is the fact that close to a third (32%)1 would rush into booking a break without checking thoroughly in order to make sure they got the deal – potentially leaving them vulnerable to unscrupulous scammers.

According to the poll2 of more than 2,000 people, four in ten (40%) view booking a holiday as a priority in January because they either want to plan ahead (42%) or need something to look forward to after the festive period (40%).

The research shows that while booking agents, travel agents and airline websites remain the most popular places to look around for a holiday3, one in seven (14%) search for their holidays on social media sites including Facebook Marketplace and Instagram, while one in five (20%) use Airbnb to book. This means the onus is increasingly falling on individuals to determine if what they are buying is real or not.

Four in ten (40%) people have had holiday adverts appear on their social media feeds, while one in five (20%) admit to getting direct messages on social media advertising a holiday. Social media can be a place where people let their guard down, with nearly one in ten (9%) having booked a holiday with no wider research because they’ve seen an influencer they follow post about the place.

Despite the potential risks of being scammed, reassuringly, 44 per cent of people do research after seeing a ‘limited-time deal’ appear online. And many people do exercise a degree of healthy suspicion and awareness. Holiday accommodation is the one area where people feel most vulnerable to being scammed (34%), trips and excursions (15%), travel (12%), vehicle rental hire (6%) and airport parking (6%) are also areas of concern for holidaymakers. However, around a quarter (26%) admit to going into their holiday search not worrying about anything when it comes to potentially being scammed.

When booking a holiday, it’s important to ensure that it’s paid for in a secure manner to protect against scams with paying by either credit or debit card being the safest options. This is because they come with protections, including Section 75 and Chargeback. According to the Nationwide poll, four in ten (40%) would use their credit card to pay, while a third (33%) would use their debit card. However, six per cent also admit they’d pay for a holiday with cash and one in 20 (5%) would choose to pay by bank transfer - both of which are less secure and offer less protection.

Nationwide encourages any customers concerned about a purchase to use its Scam Checker Service before making any payment. It is available in branch or by calling a 24/7 freephone number (0800 030 4057). If the payment goes ahead and the customer is subsequently scammed, unless Nationwide told the customer not to proceed, they will be fully reimbursed.  

Jim Winters, Nationwide’s Director of Economic Crime, said: “January is primetime for booking holidays as we want something to look forward to – whether time in the sun or snow. However, that age old adage of ‘if it looks too good to be true, it probably is’ most certainly applies with holidays – do your research and if in doubt get support. Our Scam Checker Service is completely free and for the sake of a few minutes on the telephone it could mean you’re not getting conned out of your hard-earned money and deserved time away.” 

Top tips for booking your holiday safely

  • Try to book direct with established hotels or ABTA or ATOL-protected companies.
    If you book through a travel agent or broker, make sure they’re ABTA or ATOL protected. This is a clear sign they’re legitimate. If you book independently, check if you’re dealing with the property owner, a letting agent or the local tourist information desk. This will be useful if anything goes wrong with your booking.
  • Only use secure payment methods.
    If you’re asked to make a bank transfer outside a website, this is likely to be a scam. Always use a secure card payment. If possible, use a credit card when making purchases that cost over £100 and up to £30,000 (even if you only pay part of it on your credit card). You’ll be protected under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
  • Beware of really cheap holiday offers.
    Don't be lured in by prices that are significantly lower than elsewhere.
  • Research thoroughly before buying your holiday.
    Search for reviews of the website or person online using websites like Trustpilot. Some other quick checks are that the website begins with ‘https’ and that there’s a padlock in the website address bar. If you’re given an address for the holiday let, check it exists using Google Maps.
  • Look into what checks have been made on the accommodation.
    When booking accommodation through a travel agent, ask what checks they make on the landlord and the accommodation.
  • Pay attention to the terms and conditions
    Ensure you read through all the small print before making any bookings to confirm exactly what you’re being sold. Double-check both your travel and accommodation information, particularly if there is a long gap between making the booking and arrival.
  • Take extra care with timeshare schemes
    As well as paying close attention to the terms and conditions, you may also want to consult a solicitor before buying. And remember to never feel rushed into anything.


Notes to editors

1 ‘Definitely’ and ‘Probably’ responses combined.

2 Poll conducted by Censuswide with 2,002 UK respondents, nationally representative across age, gender and region, between 29.12.2023 – 02.01.2024. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles and are members of The British Polling Council.

3 When wanting to book a holiday, where do people look around:

  • 44% Booking agent (e.g. Booking.com)
  • 43% Online travel agent (e.g. Expedia)
  • 41% Travel agent website (e.g. TUI)
  • 25% Airline website
  • 23% Travel agent shop, catalogue, brochure
  • 20% Airbnb
  • 14% Social media (e.g. Facebook Marketplace, Instagram)