Investigating hotel comparison sites

By | Category: Travel rumblings

are you getting the best deal by using a hotel comparison website?

This morning the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced an investigation into online hotel booking websites. It is concerned that rather than helping consumers, the sites might actually be making it more difficult for them and that they may be contravening consumer law.

It will look at

  • Search results: how hotels are ranked after a customer has entered their search requirements, for example to what extent search results are influenced by other factors that may be less relevant to the customer’s requirements, such as the amount of commission a hotel pays the site.
  • Pressure selling: whether claims about how many people are looking at the same room, how many rooms may be left, or how long a price is available, create a false impression of room availability or rush customers into making a booking decision.
  • Discount claims: whether the discount claims made on sites offer a fair comparison for customers. For example, the claim could be based on a higher price that was only available for a brief period, or not relevant to the customer’s search criteria, for example comparing a higher weekend room rate with the weekday rate for which the customer has searched.
  • Hidden charges: the extent to which sites include all costs in the price they first show customers or whether people are later faced with unexpected fees, such as taxes or booking fees.

The watchdog says 70% of people who shop around for accommodation use hotel booking sites. If this is right, then any unfair practices could be having quite an effect.

Just about Travel has commented about the problems with comparison websites over the years and how the best known has become an online travel agent. Having collected all those reviews for one purpose can it now use it for another? How does that sit with data protection legislation due to come into force next year?

What are your thoughts?

The CMA has written to companies across the whole sector. It is seeking evidence from both the websites and hotels, and would also like consumers to get in touch with it and share their experiences. If any readers want to submit views they should send responses by email to onlinehotelbooking@cma.gsi.gov.uk by 15 December 2017.

The investigation into hotel websites comes after the CMA ran a general investigation into price comparison sites. It found that consumers needed to hunt for deals as they do on the high street when using switching websites for energy, holidays or insurance. It concluded that price comparison websites worked best for car insurance (although some major insurance companies are not on those comparison websites) and worst for broadband.

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