Major hotel booking sites are “still skewing search results, using pressure tactics and claiming false discounts” despite a major clampdown, according to Which?
In February, Expedia, Booking.com, Trivago, Hotels.com, Agoda and Ebookers voluntarily agreed to stop using measures that could mislead customers following an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) into serious concerns around pressure selling, misleading discount claims and hidden charges.
Companies that don’t meet the obligations by 1 September 2019 risk facing enforcement action by the CMA. However, Which? has reported the sites are still using such tactics.
On Trivago’s website, a deal with Expedia to stay at Paris’s Millesime hotel was £244 in February – advertised as a saving of 63%. But that was only the case if compared with the most expensive price (£675) available on another site, not the average, and in fact the ‘pricier’ site was offering the same room for £240 – £4 cheaper than Expedia.
The CMA has also told sites to not use false or misleading claims about popularity and availability. However, Which? reports that when Booking.com was advertising ‘the last’ double room with private external bathroom at the Balmore Guest House in Edinburgh, there were, in fact, another seven doubles available with ensuites for the same price.
Which? also found a room at the Grand Hyatt New York hotel was advertised on Agoda for £189 a night, but when investigators clicked through to the payment page, this did not include a £30 hotel tax and service fee, as well as a £27 ‘destination fee’ which would be collected at the property.
Rory Boland, Which? travel editor said: “These sites have been getting away with dodgy sales practices for years and while the regulator’s intervention is a positive step, millions of holidaymakers still going to be duped this summer before any changes are made.
“You’re usually better off calling the hotel directly for the best rate anyway – even if it can’t beat the price it will usually offer an incentive, discount or even a bottle of champagne to sweeten the deal.”
A CMA spokesperson said: “Six of the largest hotel booking sites have already committed to bring an end to misleading sales tactics and hidden charges, thanks to CMA action. Some have already made important changes.
“Our work hasn’t stopped there – we have written to all booking sites and hotel firms demanding that they fall in line with the same standards so people can be sure the deal they choose is the best one for them.”
“All these sites have until 1 September to fully comply but if they don’t, the CMA is prepared to take further action against them.”
A spokesperson from Expedia Group said: “Expedia Group continuously aims to deliver attractive travel options at affordable prices in transparent, clear and easy to understand ways, so that our customers can make informed travel choices. That’s why we have invested significant time and energy into working closely with the CMA to create a helpful industry standard for all UK booking sites offering accommodation search and booking services. We gave commitments to the CMA on a voluntary basis and the CMA in turn closed its investigation in respect of the Expedia Group with no admission or finding of liability.
“We have a two-decades’ old commitment to putting travel data and details in the hands of consumers, to make travel easier, more attainable, more accessible and more enjoyable. This mission is core to what we do on our Expedia, ebookers and Hotels.com sites here in the UK. As we always look for better ways to serve our customers and the broader travel community, we are proud to have been part of this new industry standard which supports UK customers with their online booking journey”