HOLIDAYMAKERS have been ripped off by online hotel booking sites including Hotels.com, Booking.com and Expedia, but they have now agreed to make changes.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation last year after having “widespread” concerns about the sites, including the fairness of discount claims made by the sites and pressure selling.
Pressure selling, involving claims about how many people were looking at the same room, how many rooms were left or how long a deal would be available, could create a false impression of availability or rush consumers into making a decision, the CMA said.
The watchdog was also concerned that not displaying the full cost of a room upfront could mislead people, stop them from finding the best deal and potentially break consumer protection law.
Expedia, Booking.com, Agoda, Hotels.com, Ebookers and Trivago have now agreed to end the “misleading” practices, or they could face court action.
The sites will now make it clear where a hotel has paid to boost its search result ranking and also have to avoid pressure selling.
How to spot a holiday scam
WHICH? has rounded up the signs you need to look out for…
- Incredibly cheap online deal?
If the price for your flight or holiday is considerably cheaper than the average cost elsewhere, you should be suspicious. Flight prices are largely set by airlines – with travel agents having some leeway – so, charging significantly less is often a sign that there may be a scammer behind the offer.
- Look out for logos
Looking out for official logos is a good way to check the authenticity of holiday booking, travel agent and tour operators.
- Bank transfer the only option?
If a bank transfer is your only option for payment, this should set alarm bells ringing.
- Check online reviews
Do a thorough search to check the company’s credentials. Check multiple reviews for information on other people’s experiences and take note of any warnings about the company.
“The CMA has taken enforcement action to bring to an end misleading sales tactics, hidden charges and other practices in the online hotel booking market. These have been wholly unacceptable,” Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the CMA, said.
“Six websites have already given firm undertakings not to engage in these practices. They are some of the largest hotel booking sites.
“The CMA will now do whatever it can to ensure that the rest of the sector meets the same standards.”
The online booking sites have agreed to make the following changes:
- Search results: Revealing when a hotel has paid to be placed higher up in a booking site’s search results
- Pressure selling: Sites will no longer seek to rush customers into booking based on partial information, like highlighting other customers also looking at the same hotel, even if they are booking different dates
- Discount claims: Only promoting discounts available at the time a person is booking for, and not comparing discounts to higher prices for rooms a customer isn’t searching for
- Hidden charges: All costs for a stay must be displayed upfront, rather than revealing extra charges like taxes and booking fees later on
The CMA added that not all six of the booking sites had taken part in all four of these bad practices, but they must now act to address the CMA’s concerns by September 1.
The watchdog also plans to write to other hotel booking sites like online travel agents and hotel chains to set out clear expectations, asking them to make sufficient changes by the same date.
It did not say whether any of the above practices breach consumer law, but did say such sites could be breaking such rules.
Following news of the announcement, Rory Boland, travel editor of Which?, said: “We have repeatedly exposed sites like these for using dodgy tactics like pressure selling, sneaky charges, dodgy deals and discount claims so it’s absolutely right that the CMA is taking strong action.
“These changes must now be swiftly implemented to stop these misleading practices, so customers can trust the deals they’re presented with are really deals and are told the total cost of their room upfront when booking a hotel online.”
The Sun has contacted the booking sites for a comment.
More on money
Last year Which? warned that online travel agents are luring holidaymakers into “too-good-to-be-true” deals and then bombarding them with hidden costs
A family of five were left horrified after booking £3,500 Algarve holiday only to discover a week before departure they have been scammed by a fake TripAdvisor account.
Meanwhile, British holidaymakers had £6.7million stolen by fraudsters in 2017 through booking scams – mainly through fake airline tickets and accommodation.
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