Here’s How You Can Win $10,000 to Redo a Failed Vacation

See recent posts by Alisha Prakash

Let’s not bury the lede: A staggering $6 billion is wasted every year on bad hotel stays. Factors like cleanliness, dated decor, unhelpful staff, and sky-high prices all play into travelers’ disappointment, and many vacationers (57 percent out of the over 1,000 people we surveyed) claim they have been deceived by hotel marketing photos. 

Have you ever booked a hotel online and then arrived at your accommodations only to realize that your expectations and reality don’t align? Perhaps the “massive pool” was tactically framed to disguise its true size, or that “crowd-free” beach was photoshopped to create an inaccurate sense of tranquility? Welcome to the art of the photo fakeout, in which careful cropping, strategic staging, marketing language, and a whole host of other tricky techniques dupe vacationers into believing a mediocre property is a picture-perfect paradise. 

Luckily, visits hotels around the world in person, takes hundreds of photos, and posts honest reviews, so our visitors know exactly what they’re going to get before they arrive. There’s a huge difference between the photos we take and the ones on other travel sites. So, if that pool, which looks so sparkling blue isn’t exactly azure, we’ll show you. 

Even better, while you can’t return a bad vacation, can help you redo it. We’re offering one lucky traveler $10,000, plus our unparalleled expertise, the chance to redo a failed vacation. All you have to do is share your tale of a vacation gone awry here. In addition, we rounded up some common ploys hotels to use to fake out their guests. Check it out below.

Careful Cropping

We’ve caught hotels around the world red-handed using this sneaky technique. Many properties have mastered the art of carefully cropping cramped spaces, like pools or gyms, to avoid showing prospective guests the full picture. For example, this up-close shot hides the fact that this pool has probably seen better days (and that it’s really closer to the size of a large bathtub). Not exactly what we had imagined when we left home for our vacation in the sun! The image of the attractive couple only further distracts from the reality of this pool (but more on that later).  

Crowd Control

When most people fantasize about a relaxing beach getaway, they don’t envision a swarm of other strangers. And that’s exactly why some resort websites set out to give the illusion of a deserted paradise by photoshopping out the crowds. After all, if the blue water and soft sand isn’t enough to entice you into booking, the possibility of having the place all to yourself will seal the deal. As is the case with this image, while the water and sand do look pristine in both versions, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a lounge (or a patch of sand, for that matter) in actuality.


Hey, where’d that tray of fresh flowers, delicious breakfast spread, and perfectly wrapped present go? Special touches, like flowers and snacks, can make a plain hotel look extra inviting, so expect to see lots of false decor and food in marketing photos. A very disappointing disappearing act, if you ask us. Another thing to look out for: the two-become-one magic trick. Plenty of hotels will place two twin beds side by side, then make the mattresses appear as one with calculated camera angles. 

Mood Lighting

Here, the sunset is so orange, and the silhouettes are so perfect, it’s almost too good to be true. And in this case, it is. Some hotels get a little technicolor-happy and add saturated colors to give off a romantic, yet unrealistic, effect. While the beach in the below picture is pleasant, with blue water and golden sand, it doesn’t have the same dramatic impact as the sunset candlelight dinner for two.

Lie by Omission

Hotel guests, beware of the vanishing view. While the marketing photo on top would have you believe that the room overlooks the ocean, the image below reveals the true sight. Lying by omission, or what we often call the magic eraser, is another technique that hotels commonly apply. You may discover that your property has distorted an image to make iconic landmarks appear closer, block out unpleasant views, or fake the view entirely.

Smiling Models

A gorgeous couple, romantic atmosphere, and even a cocktail in a hand — the top image really pushes us to imagine ourselves in the setting. But these well-positioned models are distracting us from asking one very important question: why can’t we see the entire hot tub? Well, the answer is because said hot tub is tiny and not very romantic at all. In addition to strategically using smiling models to distract us, the good old careful crop ploy strikes again, too.

Sexy Lady Phenomenon

Much like the smiling model approach, hotels will often tempt potential travelers into booking a stay with a sexy lady. The woman here appears to be playfully soaking in a luxurious bubble bath, but in truth, she doesn’t exist, and even worse, the bathroom is nothing special — if not, a little drab and cramped.

Marketing Language

Cameras aren’t the only tool hotels use to dupe potential guests — in fact, marketing language is just as deceptive. Look out for meaningless phrases like “there’s something for everyone,” as well as “a stone’s throw,” which might translate into a 20-minute walk, and “intimate and cozy,” which might be euphemism for small and cramped. Also, oceanfront doesn’t always mean oceanview — while the former will look out directly on the water, the latter may only guarantee a glimpse of the sea, even if that means a sliver of blue so far in the distance that you have to squint your eyes.

Enter for a chance to win $10,000 to redo a failed vacation here!

Editor’s Note: These are not real photo fake-outs, and the images were used purely for demonstration. 

Update: February 20, 2018: The Oyster Vacation Do-Over Contest entry period is now over and we’ll be contacting our “unlucky turned lucky” winner soon.

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