Hotel booking websites are still skewing search results, using pressure tactics and claiming false discounts despite a major clampdown, new research claims.
An investigation by consumer watchdog Which? found that sites are still using “dubious tactics” to put pressure on holidaymakers to book during the summer.
Expedia, Booking.com, Trivago, Hotels.com, Agoda and ebookers were all named by the Competition and Markets Authority in February for employing unfair practices.
The sites were ordered to stop using measures that could mislead customers, including not displaying the full cost upfront, giving a false impression of a room’s popularity and dishonestly claiming that rooms are discounted.
While the six sites all agreed to voluntarily comply with the new rulings, the CMA gave them more than six months to make the changes.
With the deadline to comply not until September 1, holidaymakers are at risk of falling for “dodgy sales tactics” while booking their summer holidays, according to Which?
Which? is advising consumers to contact their chosen hotel directly by phone to secure the best deal.
Many hotels – especially smaller independents – are banned from undercutting the prices posted on booking sites as a condition of their contracts with the online firms.
But most will offer a cheaper stay or alternative perk to secure a booking from customers who call quoting prices they have seen online.
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland 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 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.”
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