After a thorough examination found their practices to be deceptive, six hotel booking businesses are being pressured to change.
Since launching a 14-month investigation in 2017, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), a government watchdog whose purpose is to “promote competition for the benefit of consumers, both within and outside the UK” and “make markets work well for consumers, businesses and the economy” is coming down on Booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com, ebookers, Agoda, and trivago. The companies have reportedly practiced “misleading discount claims and hidden charges,” according to The Independent. Going forward, CMA is ordering the sites to clarify such actions as comparing the prices of suites to standard rooms and making taxes and any other fees clear in the title price.
The Authority points out that the strategies used by the businesses give a false impression of a hotel’s clout, citing such claims as “one room left at this price” and “booked four times in the last 24 hours,” per The Guardian. Such tactics, the CMA said, could prevent potential consumers from finding the best price possible and even violate consumer law.
“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.”
The sites have also listed a hotel as “sold-out” to incentivize consumers to make their purchases faster. Additionally, businesses must be clearer about their advertisements. If their sites disclose that other customers are looking at booking the same establishment, it should add that the customers could be considering booking a stay at the property for different days or months. For example, Expedia currently displays that over 100 people are viewing PUBLIC, an Ian Schrager Hotel in New York City right now, though no other details about those people are mentioned.
Via The Guardian, examples from research carried out by Which?—a UK company who provides consumer rights advice—revealed such evidence as an email offer from Hotels.com which displayed a deal at London’s 45 Park Lane for £388 a night. In reality, the lowest price offered at that time on the actual Hotels.com website was £488.
“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,” said Andrew Tyrie, the CMA’s chairman.
However, a spokesperson for Expedia Group—the owner of Hotels.com and ebookers— said the company did not break any laws and claims that after voluntarily participating and handing over information during the watchdog’s investigation, the CMA didn’t admit to finding liabilities upon completing its research.
On the other hand, trivago was more open to the findings. The company said it viewed the “broad applicability of the guidelines to all UK online travel companies as a positive development for us and the industry.”
The sites have until September 1, 2019, to right their wrongs. If they fail to do so, they will face further action.
Best practices for finding authentic, excellent deals involves a little research. We recommend always comparing a hotel booking site’s prices with the prices listed on the hotel’s webpage. As for an alternative to online booking, you could reach out to the local tourist office of the area you’re planning on staying in—it might offer services that could help you get a great bargain, especially if you’re looking for a room in a pinch. You can also contact the hotel directly to see if it will match a great rate you found online. Finally, please be vigilant of hidden and extra fees. If a deal is too good to be true, it just might be.