The site is increasingly using third party booking sites, often based abroad, to book hotels. However, many customers have run into problems when arriving at the hotels, which have no record of their reservation.
One hotel in Edinburgh says it has been plagued with bookings for a previous incarnation of the business which closed nearly a year ago. Customers have turned up to the New Town Guest House – which re-opened in March under new owner Iride Clark – with paid reservations for rooms at the St Bernards House Hotel which previously owned the business.
Clark said: “It is a nightmare – for us and the customers. People turn up often with pre-paid bookings for a hotel which no longer exists. Sometimes we have no rooms free and we cannot help them, we feel very bad for them.
“The previous owner has not closed their registration with lastminute.com and we have had to involve solicitors to try to get to the bottom of the problem. We hope it stops soon.”
At another hotel in London, a Scottish customer was one of around 40 people waiting in reception who had found their weekend bookings were not valid after paying for a room through lastminute.com. The hotel told the customers that they had stopped using lastminute.com for bookings months earlier, but that the site had continued to take reservations for their rooms.
Rory Boland, travel editor at Which?, said lastminute.com had recently been ranked bottom in the consumer watchdog’s annual survey of hotel bookings sites.
He said: “We have done this survey for two years and lastminute has been bottom both times. They escape responsibility by saying that they act as an agent and offer no customer service. It is inexcusable behaviour.
“The scale of these stories is incredible, but generally, it is not an uncommon problem. I think people often hear stories about problems with private rentals, but actually, turning up to a hotel to find that they do not have a booking was the second most common issue with hotel booking sites like lastminute.com.”
A spokeswoman for lastminute.com said: As a travel agent we sell holiday packages including products from many of our suppliers and partners, and these include airlines, hotel partners etc. When a customer completes their booking with us we send them an email confirmation with all the information required for their trip, which includes also the supplier name where required and relevant terms and conditions.
“However, when a customer buys a standalone hotel, as in the cases highlighted to us, we act as an agent in the sale, which means the contract is between the customer and the hotel provider, as clearly highlighted in our terms and conditions and confirmation email provided to customers.”
She added: “In rare occasions when there are issues such as the ones highlighted to us, we resolve it with our partners accordingly and offer customers alternative accommodation wherever possible or a refund.”
Susannah Russell from the Borders booked a weekend away in the Scottish capital through lastminute.com as a present for her son, Cuillan and his girlfriend. But the St Bernard’s House hotel in Edinburgh, closed down months before lastminute.com took the booking. Its successor, the New Town Guest House doesn’t take bookings from lastminute.com Ms Russell said: “My son phoned an emergency number and a woman came and told them that the hotel had been bought over and they didn’t book through lastminute.com so they had no room for them. “I tried to phone lastminute and told them alternative accommodation needed to be found. A man said he’d phone me back, but I’m still waiting more than two weeks later. They had to get a train back home again, it was a real disappointment, but it was lucky we don’t live too far away.”
Jen Smith, from Edinburgh, arrived at the Maitrise hotel in Maida Vale, London, and was told to wait in reception with around 40 other people who said they had also booked through the site. “Eventually, I found out that lastminute had booked my room through another company called Hotelbeds, which was based in Spain.” After spending hours on the phone to Hotelbeds, Ms Smith was told she would be moved to another hotel nearby. Eventually, she received an email from lastminute telling her that “due to an overbooking”, she would no longer be able to stay at the Maitrise. “It was my birthday and we had dinner and a show booked – It took three hours for them to sort it out and find us a new hotel, so we had to skip dinner.”