Which? accuses hotel booking sites of continuing to skew search results
According to the new Which? research.
In February, Expedia, Booking.com, Trivago, Hotels.com, Agoda and Ebookers were all named and humiliated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) for employing unfair practices.
Venues have been ordered to stop using measures that could mislead customers, including not displaying the full cost upfront, giving the wrong impression of a room’s popularity and dishonestly claiming that the rooms are discounted.
Major hotel booking sites are still skewing search results, using job tactics and claiming bogus discounts despite major crackdown, new investigation by Which?
And it doesn’t look like they are changing tactics before the September 1 deadline to comply.
A consumer champion survey found venues are still using these methods to pressure holidaymakers to book during the summer holiday season.
He comes three years after which? The trips first highlighted the problem.
On the Trivago website, a deal with Expedia to stay at Hotel Millesime in Paris was £244 in February – advertised as a 63% saving.
But that was only the case when compared to the most expensive price (£675) available on another site, not the average.
When a which one? searcher clicked, the “more expensive” site actually offered the same room for £240 – £4 cheaper than Expedia. Thus, Trivago’s rebate claim was not only inaccurate, but also more expensive.
From September, all savings must be real – so a sales pitch like this from Trivago could land the company in court.
Pressure tactics such as “one room left at this price” and “booked four times in the last 24 hours” can cause customers to quickly part with their money by making it seem like there is limited supply in the room. time.
In fact, about two in five members told Which? that seeing a prompt saying “only one room left on our site” would influence their decision to book.
However, in some cases, which one? found that there were over 50 rooms available.
For example, when Booking.com advertised the “last” double room with private external bathroom at the Balmore Guest House in Edinburgh, there were, in fact, seven other double rooms available with bathroom for the same price.
Starting in September, the CMA requires sites to tell the “full story” and not use false or misleading claims about popularity and availability. Until then, consumers should take prompts like this, as well as “x number of people searching” with a pinch of salt.
On the Trivago website, a deal with Expedia to stay at Hotel Millesime in Paris was £244 in February – advertised as a 63% saving. When a which one? searcher clicked, ‘more expensive’ site actually offered same room for £240 – £4 cheaper than Expedia
Booking.com advertised the ‘final’ double room with private outdoor bathroom at the Balmore Guest House in Edinburgh. There were, in fact, seven other double en-suite rooms available for the same price
The regulator also says booking sites must start clearly differentiating between sponsored and non-sponsored listings before the deadline.
Currently, properties pay a premium for a prominent position at the top of the page. But this is not always clear to vacationers.
On eBookers and Expedia, which one? says it’s too easy to miss the word “sponsored” in paid ads.
Meanwhile, the only clue on Booking.com is said to be a yellow thumbs-up icon. Hover over it and a pop-up explains that this hotel “could pay a little more Booking.com” – but only for those who bother to read all of the blurb.
Until the new rules come into force, which ones? recommends that users filter searches by price or location, which should eliminate sponsored links from the site.
Which? also found that Agoda was misleading customers with unclear prices when researchers checked in February.
A room at the Grand Hyatt New York Hotel was advertised for £189 a night. But when investigators clicked through to the payment page, they said a £30 hotel tax and service charge suddenly materialized.
The fine print then revealed that a £27 ‘destination charge’ would also be collected at the property. Suddenly, that nightly rate had gone up by £57, a 30% increase.
While the six sites have all agreed to voluntarily comply with the new rulings, the CMA has given them more than six months to make the changes – leaving hundreds of millions of holidaymakers at risk of falling for these questionable sales tactics when the booking their summer vacation, says Which?
To get the best deal, which one? advises consumers to contact the hotel of their choice directly by telephone.
It’s only when customers hover over the yellow thumb that they’re told it’s a sponsored ad.
Rory Boland, which one? The travel editor said: “These sites have gotten away with questionable sales practices for years and while the regulator’s intervention is a positive step, millions of holidaymakers are still going to be duped this summer before any change is made.”
“You’re usually better off calling the hotel direct to get the best rate anyway – even if they can’t beat the price, they’ll usually offer an incentive, discount or even a bottle of champagne to sweeten the deal. case.”
A Trivago spokesperson said: “Trivago compares the hotel prices we receive from many different booking sites based on the dates specified by each customer. There are sometimes price differences and we work to mitigate these effects so that each customer can find their ideal hotel.
“We have appreciated the opportunity to work with the CMA over the past year to establish a unique roadmap for online travel agencies in the UK. It should be noted that the CMA has not concluded that any site’s practices are misleading and we have made no admission in this regard.
“We view the broad applicability of the guidelines to all UK online travel agencies as a positive development for us and for the industry.” Now that the CMA has set clear guidelines for the UK sector, we will of course follow them as far as they apply to us.
A spokesperson for Expedia Group, on behalf of Expedia, Hotels.com and ebookers, said: “Expedia Group is always focused on delivering compelling travel options at affordable prices in a way that is transparent, clear and easy to understand. , so that our customers can travel in full knowledge of the facts. choices.
A room at the Grand Hyatt New York Hotel has been advertised on Agoda for £189 a night. But when investigators clicked through to the payment page, they said a £30 hotel tax and service charge suddenly materialized. The fine print then revealed that a £27 ‘destination charge’ would also be levied at the property
“That’s why we’ve invested a lot of time and energy into working closely with the CMA to create a useful industry standard for all UK booking sites offering accommodation search and booking services.
“We have given undertakings to the CMA on a voluntary basis and the CMA in turn has closed its investigation of the Expedia Group without admission or finding of liability.
“We have a two-decade-old commitment to putting travel data and details in the hands of consumers, to make travel easier, more accessible, more accessible and more enjoyable. This mission is at the heart of what we do on our Expedia, ebookers and Hotels.com sites here in the UK.
“While we are always looking for better ways to serve our customers and the wider travel community, we are proud to have been part of this new industry standard that supports UK customers in their online booking journey. .”
MailOnline Travel has also contacted Booking.com and Agoda for comment.