Travel Buyers Beware: Internet Reservations Services Add Unnecessary Fees, Avoidable Hassles To Room Reservations In National Parks

Three-quarters of all Americans say they plan to visit a national park this year, and some of those travelers may pay unnecessary and non-refundable fees for lodge rooms, find themselves in lodges outside the park when they thought they were in the park and encounter a variety of mistakes in their reservations. According to Xanterra Parks & Resorts, the largest authorized concessioner within the national park system, these travel hassles are completely avoidable.

The problems begin when travelers make lodge reservations using Internet reservations services that are not operated by authorized concessioners like Xanterra, which provides free reservations services online and through toll-free numbers. Some Internet reservations services charge a non-refundable fee as much as 19 percent of the total travel price to book lodging within a park. In addition, some sites include inaccurate rate information and misleading lodge descriptions that suggest lodges are located within the park when they are outside park boundaries. Plus, these sites frequently make mistakes in the reservations.

“Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – is sage advice for summer travelers to national parks,” said Dave Hartvigsen, marketing consultant for Xanterra Parks & Resorts. “Although these sites are legal and many have been around for years, they can be misleading and add unnecessary costs and hassles to a vacation.”

Xanterra charges the same rate for accommodations whether the reservations are made by Xanterra or an Internet reservations site and there is no business relationship that exists between Xanterra and these companies.

In addition to the unnecessary fees, misleading lodge locations and reservations mistakes, Xanterra cites these other potential problems stemming from use of some Internet reservations services:

  • Some reservations services lead callers to believe in-park lodging is sold out when rooms are actually available.
  • Some services bait travelers by quoting in-park lodge rates that are significantly lower than true rates. W
    en travelers try to make reservations at these non-existent low rates the site switches them to another location at a higher rate claiming that the original low rate is no longer available.
  • Some services also offer to book lodging “at” a park but not “in” a park. Since many lodges in national park gateway communities are named after nearby parks, it can be difficult to determine its actual location unless travelers ask that specific question or review a map.
  • Travelers who must change or cancel their travel plans with these companies often forfeit their reservations fees.

“Our guests often first discover the problems when they check into a Xanterra-operated lodge, and they are frequently surprised to learn that they did not make the reservation through us,” said Hartvigsen. “If there is a mistake in the reservation, such as the wrong number of nights or rooms, naturally we will try to help guests salvage their vacation plans, but if their visit is during the busiest time of the summer when we have few rooms available, frequently our options are limited.”

Here are several ways to avoid problems with Internet reservations sites:

  • Look for language that identifies the operator of the site as the “authorized provider of concession services” within a park. Often, a single concessioner operates lodging within a given national park. The National Park Service website, www.nps.gov, lists authorized concessioners at every national park. Xanterra operates lodges and other concessions in Yellowstone, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Crater Lake, Petrified Forest and Rocky Mountain National Parks and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
  • Read the terms. Internet reservations sites require users to accept the terms prior to completing a reservation. These sites must disclose terms such as their non-refundable fees.
  • Closely review a site’s inventory of available hotel properties. If gateway and in-park lodges are interspersed, that is a good indication that the site is a third-party service. Authorized national park concessioners typically only advertise and sell the in-park lodging they manage.
  • Be skeptical about claims that in-park rooms are sold out. Internet reservations services may try to paint a bleak picture of in-park room availability to get customers to book outside the park resulting in higher fees for their reservations service. For example, one reservations service implies all lodging in Yellowstone is sold out one year in advance. In fact, reservations for lodges are accepted a year in advance, but the hotels do not typically sell out at that time. Another site lists in-park lodging but steers users to gateway community lodging during the reservations process, which suggests that in-park lodging is not available for those dates.
  • Beware of claims that in-park lodging is pricier than lodges in gateway communities. Those claims are not necessarily true. All in-park lodging is priced based on a National Park Service guideline that requires park lodge rates to be comparable to rates for similar rooms offered outside a park.
  • Watch out for services that claim access to rooms “even when the park is sold out.” Internet reservations sites do not hold room blocks. The Xanterra website lists availability of rooms on any given date, so consumers can see for themselves what is available.
  • Don’t be fooled by official-looking images such as images of National Park Service signs or logos. To a casual or inattentive website user, the use of any or all of these image types might suggest an official endorsement from the National Park Service when that might not be the case.

For lodge reservations and more information about Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Crater Lake or Death Valley, you may also call (1) 303-297-2757 or toll-free at (1) 888-297-2757. For Yellowstone reservations, call (1) 307-344-7311 or toll-free at (1) 866-439-7375.