Hotel Photos Don't Always Disclose the Whole Truth

PHOTO Shangrila Hotel in Santa Monica,
WATCH Booking a Hotel Online: Buyer Beware

For many Americans, spring break is right around the corner. And if you have travel plans, buyer beware.

As ABC News found, what you see in those pretty pictures isn't always what you get.

Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" for more on this story tonight on ABC.

Hotels around the world potentially are misleading travelers with what are called "photo fakeouts," posting images to their websites of breathtaking views and enticing pools that sometimes owe a lot to the marketer's imagination or reflect additional luxuries not necessarily found in the real hotel rooms.

At the upscale Ritz-Carlton in Miami, the pretty plants that were highlighted in one of the hotel's marketing photos were noticeably absent when a secret shopper rented a room.

"You think you're buying one thing," said Wendell Jackson, "and you get something else."

Misleading pictures are why the undercover researchers at take their own pictures. The hotel review website tries to capture the gritty reality behind those glittering hotel ads by posting their images side by side with the hotels'.

For the Sofitel Hotel in Los Angeles, an adjacent department store carefully was framed out of a marketing photo that touted its swimming pool. And at the Shangri-La Hotel in Los Angeles, a lamppost in front of the building conspicuously was missing in a marketing image.

In a statement, Shangri-La said: "Our marketing efforts will never capture the full magic of the Shangri-La experience but our guests appreciate that we try."

Sofitel said all of its photos were reflective of the actual product.

"The rooftop pool area can be photographed from many angles," the hotel said. "The shot chosen for the website offers guests an authentic preview of the full length of the pool, as well as the surrounding landscape and lounge area. It is an accurate image of the setting that our guests enjoy. It has not been retouched or altered in any way."

"You don't get to vacation all that often, and you show up and it's not exactly what you were expecting or what you were hoping for," said's co-founder Elie Seidman. "They've manipulated you in some way. ... That's not OK."

On the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill's website, a photo makes it look like the hotel is practically next door to the U.S. Capitol. It's close but not that close: The Capitol is about a quarter of a mile away.

Holiday Inn Backs Its Photo

At a New York City Holiday Inn, a room that looked spacious on the hotel's website actually measured a little more than 8 feet at its widest point, and there was a wall just 22 inches from the bed.

"It would be nice to see the whole angle and the whole room," said Braden Cox.

In an e-mail, the Holiday Inn Wall Street said that the photo was intended to show the amenities found in its guest rooms at that hotel location and that the "size and layout of the rooms are addressed by other photographs."

"In general, guests traveling to New York City are aware that space is at a premium and what might be perceived as a small guestroom in other cities is considered normal by New York City standards," the statement added.

Travel Web Sites You Can Trust

So which Web sites can you trust before you book your travel?

As mentioned, allows you to search for hotels and see photos and reviews submitted by actual travelers and secret reviewers. also features rankings and reviews from actual travelers.

For advice on the best websites to book air travel, click here.

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