If you frequently peruse third-party hotel booking sites to get the cheapest rates, but are never sure if you’re really getting the best deal out there, you’re not being paranoid — booking sites have been purposely deceitful to their customers.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), a UK government agency whose function is “to promote competition for the benefit of consumers, both within and outside the UK,” has called out Agoda, Booking.com, eBookers, Expedia, Hotels.com, and Trivago for dishonest sales practices. These include pressure selling, misleading discount claims, and hidden charges.
According to the CMA, these websites commonly use misleading tactics to create a sense of urgency in customers. One common strategy is the “one room left at this price” and “booked four times in the last 24 hours” messages, which are not always truthful, and can rush customers into booking, preventing them from finding the best price elsewhere. Sites also commonly notify users that “others are viewing this property right now” without providing information as to whether the other customers are searching for the same dates.
The six hotel booking sites flagged by the CMA have agreed to:
- Stop giving customers a false impression of the availability or popularity of a hotel (as described above).
- Offer full room costs upfront and display taxes, and booking and resort fees in the headline price.
- Stop misleading customers with dodgy discount claims, such as making irrelevant comparisons of the rates of different rooms at different times of the week to give customers the impression of a deal.
- Disclose whether they have been paid to rank some hotels higher on their list and explain clearly the criteria for a ranking.
The sites have been given until September 1, 2019 to change their business practices.