Is National Park Reservations defrauding summer travelers?

By | May 7th, 2009

Click on the National Park Reservations site, and for a moment or two, you might think you’re visiting a government-operated reservation service. There’s a familiar tree logo, a park-like color scheme, and, of course, the words “National Park” repeated throughout the pages.

Arlene Adams thought she was dealing with the real thing — which, for the record, is this site — a few weeks ago when she tried to make reservations at Yosemite National Park.

I am writing to advise your readers of a problem I encountered when making a lodging reservation at Yosemite National Park. I am afraid I am out $73, but hope I can prevent others from making the same mistake.

I used a Web site I believed to be the reservation site for the National Park service, National Park Reservations. While reading info on the various lodging options, nowhere on the individual hotel pages was there any mention of a 10 percent booking fee.

In fact, here’s the e-mail she received when she requested a price quote:

Dear Arlene,

I received your request for lodging at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. I can make the reservation 1 year and 1 day in advance so I will make the reservation tomorrow am and I will send a confirmation email tomorrow.


Adams believes the 10 percent booking fee should have been disclosed at that time. It wasn’t.

When the reservation was confirmed the following day, I received this notice:

“National Park Reservations has charged an additional ten percent non-refundable fee in the amount of $73 to your credit card, as described on our website and phone message.”

I went back to the website, and at the very bottom in VERY small print was the 10 percent notification.

Yosemite doesn’t charge a booking fee — just one night’s deposit, which is fully refundable up to seven days in advance. That doesn’t sit right with Adams.

Related story:   Airlines announce new fees for seats, restroom use

I believe the site has made itself look like a NPS Web site in order to defraud the public. I will lose that 10 percent booking fee, but want to advise others to avoid this Web site, and save themselves money by booking directly with the National Park.

Is National Park Reservations defrauding its customers? Yes and no.

Yes, only in the sense that it looks “official” at first glance. But only at first glance.

Consider the prominent notice on the front page of its site:

National Park Reservations is a reservation service providing lodging and activity reservations both inside as well as in the gateway communities of the United States National Parks. National Park Reservations is not an authorized concessionaire of any National Park nor are we in any way affiliated with the National Park Service of the Federal Government. National Park Reservations provides the ability for its customers to make reservations through a toll-free telephone number at 1-866-875-8456 or by submitting an online request form.

For this service, National Park Reservations charges a 10% non-refundable reservation fee based on the total dollar amount of reservations made.

I checked to see if this language had been added recently, since travel companies will often add extra disclosure when they believe an article or blog post is imminent. A look at the Internet archives reveals the wording hasn’t changed in years.

Should National Park Reservations have disclosed the 10 percent booking fee by e-mail? Not necessarily. A link to its terms and conditions would have been helpful, but if a customer agrees to a price, a third party is free to mark up the rate to whatever the market will bear.

Related story:   Discovering Discovery Cove

If National Park Reservations had done this the other way around — quoting Adams the regular rate and then surprising her with a 10 percent booking fee — I would have had a problem with that.

Adams’ bigger point, which is that you can get a better price from the official government site, isn’t lost. But for some summer travelers, booking through a site like National Park Reservations might be more convenient.

As long as they’re disclosing their fees up front, I can’t fault them for anything.

We want your feedback. Your opinion is important to us. Here's how you can share your thoughts:
  • Send us a letter to the editor. We'll publish your most thoughtful missives in our daily newsletter or in an upcoming post.
  • Leave a message on one of our social networks. We have an active Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence and a Twitter account. Every story on this site is posted on those channels. The conversation ranges from completely unmoderated (Twitter) to moderated (Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Post a question to our help forums or ask our advocates for a hand through our assistance intake form. Please note that our help forum is not a place for debate. It's there primarily to assist readers with a consumer problem.
  • If you have a news tip or want to report an error or omission, you can email the site publisher directly. You may also contact the post's author directly. Contact information is in the author tagline.