Is National Park Reservations defrauding summer travelers?

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.

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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.

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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.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at

  • AngryinLA

    I steaming mad, we paid $126.54 non refundable reservation fee for a phone call. I could have called the lodge directly.
    Most of our interaction was on the phone, not on line.
    Not once did she us tell we have a 10% booking fee.
    I am financially aware, read the small print always, and I didn’t know I was not dealing with a real National Park service, but a travel agency.I didn’t know I was paying a 10% (of the total booking) to book a cabin.My foreign born, unsuspecting husband was completely taken advantage by this rip off company. I am writing a complaint to the BBB, the local district attorney’s off of CA, and Montana where the home base of this company is.If you call a travel company National Park Reservation, it is fraud if it has nothing to do with the National Park. If you aren’t fluent in English, it is extremely easy to take advantage of people and rip them off.Nice business model.

  • Jdarling2k

    This scam by National Park Reservations is REAL.  Their 10% disclaimer shows up more prominantly on their main web site, but on links to reservations for the individual hotels, their exhorbitant fee does not show up until one clicks on “Our Terms”, and then scrolls down.  California contract law requires a “clear agreement” or a “meeting of minds” for any business dealing to be considered an enforceable  contract.  The law also requires “definite terms”.  I my case, they National Park Reservations tried to charge a 10% fee on my second choice hotel for which they did not give a firm price.  Not legal; not binding; not nice!  Don’t pay this company a dime! 

  • Boo

    I was taken in by the NPR website, and didn’t look at it carefully enough; I just wanted to check availability for the Grand Canyon. I got an email stating that there was a 10% non-refundable cancellation fee, which for me was $37. I called the number provided in the email and after much pleading and escalating it to a manager, I did get my $37 back. Won’t make that mistake again!

  • larryek303

    I wanted to stay at the Jackson Lake Lodge and did not have their number, so I did a Google search for the Jackson Lake Lodge.  The Jackson Lake Lodge came up on the search  with the following at the top Jackson Lake Lodge – Grand Teton’s Premier In-Park Lodge.  Clicking on it I went directly to the Nation Park Reservations website for the Jackson Lake Lodge.  There was no indication on that web page that this organization is not part of the National Park system.  There was nothing that stated there would be a non-refundable 10% charge on the dollar amount of the reservation. I inputed the dates and that I only wanted to book a view room in the lodge since it was my birthday and I had previously stayed at the lodge many times; I provided my credit card number.  The following day I received a call from one of the National Park Reservations agents; she told me a view cabin was available.  I told her I did not want a cabin I needed a view lodge room since last year it rained the entire time and a cabin would not be very comfortable in the rain.  At no time did she reveal to me about the 10% charge or even that they were not an authorized National Park agent.  She said she would see if anything opened up she would call back.  The following day I received a confirmation of my view room reservation in the lodge from the Jackson Lake Lodge.  That evening the National Park Reservation agent called to tell me she was able to get me into the lodge, I told her I already received a confirmation from the lodge; she was surprised, but again never mentioned the 10% reservation charge.  It wasn’t until I saw the charge on my credit card that I found out I had been charge $71 for my reservation.  I returned to the Jackson Lake Lodge reservation page for the National Park Reservation website and looked for a warning or note that stated I would be charge 10% for using this website or that it was not part of the National Park System.  There was nothing!  I finally found “OUR TERMS” grouped with GRAND TETON LODGING, GRAND TETON VACATION HOMES, ONLINE RESERVATIONS, and GRAND TETON MAPS.  When I clicked on “OUR TERMS” I found that they are not an authorized travel agent for the National Parks.  Go to the Jackson Lake Lodge web page for National Park Reservations and see for yourselves.  I love our National Parks and their lodges, but this is a disgrace and they should be shut down and class action taken against them.

  • y_p_w

    FYI – the authorized concessionaire for all the lodging at Yosemite has their website at .

    Most official concessionaires have a message on the bottom of each page that indicates that they are an official concessionaire. None of the Xanterra Parks & Resorts (the largest concessionaire for NPS) do, but they have a distinctive website design that people familiar with national parks knows. The websites operated by Forever Resorts, Delaware North Companies, and Aramark always have a message that says it clearly.

  • y_p_w

    The authorized concessionaire is now owned by Vail Resorts.

  • y_p_w

    Interesting blast from the past.

  • Jane

    They don’t care about their reputation or any customer service at all. Once you are charged by them, never think about get a penny back from them. The only way is to dispute with your credit card company. Even worse, in their website, they ask you to fulfill a form stating your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice of hotel, but no matter what the availability is, they always book the most expensive for you. Because in that way, they can earn more from you—10% commission fee based on the totally dollar amount of the hotel cost. I was very “lucky” to have several conversations with their manager Jessica, who will never cooperate and is very inpatient, and kept telling lies. It’s very disgusting experience for me to talk with her. I will even not recommend it to my worst enemy.

  • RGS

    Sorry, I totally disagree. This is a deliberately deceptive website; it is obviously designed to look like a US Gov’t site. The 10% charge is not what anyone would expect from a typical booking.

  • William Forman

    This site is really giving informations about the National Park. It is really describing the different aspects of the park. Thanks for an impressive information!

  • Sophia Bell

    This is clearly a defrauding! If they really exactly won’t like to defraud people, they should tell all the bills from the start. So before you do a reservation, you should listen first to some of their explanation to understand the situation clearly!

  • National Park Reservations, In

    Other than for advertising purposes, National Park
    Reservations, Inc. (NPR) does not appear to be interested in the condition of
    the properties they represent. Customer satisfaction
    does not appear to be their priority, even though NPR charges the vacationer
    10% of the total reservation fee just to make the reservation. The service I received from NPR could have
    been satisfactory with minimal effort on their part. From NPR, I rented a vacation home for a
    week’s stay in June 2013 near Shenandoah National Park. National Parks Reservations is a private
    company. They are not an authorized
    concessionaire of any National Park nor are they in any way affiliated with the
    National Park Service of the Federal Government. They make reservations on behalf of their “customers”
    around the United States National Parks.
    NPR is only a middleman between the vacationer and the property owner, like

    To start with in addition to providing the property address, NPR
    could improve their service by providing the vacationer with a phone number for
    the on-site property manager. NPR told me
    the address they gave me was for the rental office and someone would be there
    when we arrived. With the help of a GPS,
    I found the “rental office”; it was a personal residence and the only one there
    was a big angry dog. After knocking on
    several other doors in rural mountain Virginia, and stopping a car in the road to
    ask for assistance, one of the local residents called the property manager to
    let him know we were looking for him. If I had a phone number, my first impression
    of the property would have been much more positive.

    While the property appeared very nice, it has some construction
    flaws. For example, in order to turn on
    the main light in master bed room, a total of three different switches have to
    be on. It took several days before I figured
    this out. Light switches are minor
    compared to flooding. When it rains, and
    it rains often in Virginia, the property can flood, and it flooded during our
    stay. After discovering an inch of water
    throughout the down stairs master bedroom and bath, we called the property
    manager. “I know what the problem is”
    were his first words after being told. If
    the property manager knew the property could flood when it rains, the property
    should never have been offered for rent until the problem was fixed.

    After we got back home, we called NPR to complain about the
    flooding and our dissatisfaction with their service. NPR said they would investigate our accusations
    and get back in touch with us. Only the property
    manager from Lion Crow Cabins called us.
    No one from NPR has contacted us regarding our stay, despite the fact
    that we had a contract with them and paid them a fee.

    There are many other vacation rental property that are much
    nicer and much closer to Shenandoah National Park. If you rent from National Park Reservations,
    Inc. or Lion Crow Cabins, beware; you might be very disappointed.

  • Willie

    I am yet one more of those dumbasses that with the excitement I though that I was booking directly with the lodge business and did not pay attention to the 10% non refundable scam even though it was right in my face. Needless to say, I did not get my money back.

    I must say, I have seen worse in Thailand, these scumbags are professionals and prey on people’s stupidity, I should have known better, don’t let your guard down when giving your hard earned money to a business.

  • bbbevie

    Isn’t it wonderful, National Parks can take a well deserved break from all of you!

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