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Experts: Even if your number gets hacked, your liability is limited

By Marla Edwards


(CNN) — Like other kinds of virtual shopping, booking travel online is no less secure than using your credit card in a shop or restaurant in the off-line world, according to some industry experts.

“I think it’s probably very safe to make travel arrangements online. The chances of somebody hacking in and getting your credit card number are about as good or bad as somebody picking up the slips from your card that you use in a restaurant,” said Laurie Berger, editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter.

Many travelers are nevertheless nervous about using their credit cards to book online.

“They seem to have this vision of people listening to a wire and stealing credit cards out of the ether, but that just doesn’t happen,” said Terry Jones, president of Travelocity.

Online travel agencies such as Travelocity, Preview Travel, Microsoft Expedia and Internet Travel Network (which powers CNN Interactive’s Reservation Desk), typically switch their customers’ Internet browsers to secure mode when credit card numbers are entered. Most popular browsers, including Netscape and Microsoft Explorer, use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) technology.

That technology takes the credit card numbers and encrypts them, making them unreadable to humans and most computers.

The browser then sends the information across the Internet. The online travel agency’s server receives it and has the ability to decode the data. Encryption allows the transmission of sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, without much risk that someone will access it.

Online agencies offer bargains

Berger believes that booking travel online is not only secure, but also offers bargains to the consumer at a time when demand is heavy for air travel and for hotels.

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