Hotel booking sites including Expedia, Booking.com and trivago have been forced to change the way they operate by the Competitions and Markets Authority over a string of issues including pressure selling, misleading discount claims and hidden charges.
The CMA took action last year because it was concerned that practices such as giving a false impression of a room’s popularity or not displaying the full cost of a room upfront could mislead people, stop them finding the best deal and potentially break consumer protection law.
It said today that all companies under investigation by the CMA - which also included Agoda, Hotels.com and ebookers - have co-operated with its work and voluntarily agreed to change their practices.
Companies will now have to make clear how hotels are ranked after a customer has entered their search requirements - such as telling people when search results have been affected by the amount of commission a hotel pays the site, while they can also no longer a false impression of the availability or popularity of a hotel or rushing customers into making a booking decision based on incomplete information. Meanwhile, all compulsory charges such as taxes, booking or resort fees should be clear in the headline price
Previously, the CMA found that companies were suggesting to customer that a certain number of people were looking at the same hotel, pressuring them into making a decision, - without making it clear that the other searches could be for different dates. It also found that sites were making comparisons with a higher price that was not relevant to the customer’s search criteria. For example, some sites were comparing a higher weekend room rate with a weekday rate or comparing the price of a luxury suite with a standard room.
CMA Chairman, Andrew Tyrie, said: “The CMA has taken enforcement action to bring to an end misleading sales tactics, hidden charges and other practices in the online hotel booking market. These have been wholly unacceptable.
“Six websites have already given firm undertakings not to engage in these practices. They are some of the largest hotel booking sites. The CMA will now do whatever it can to ensure that the rest of the sector meets the same standards.”
Not all of the companies engaged in all of the practices, but the CMA said every one had agreed to abide by all the principles set out in the undertakings. It will also write to other hotel booking sites including online travel agents, metasearch engines and hotel chains setting out clear expectations for how they should be complying with consumer protection law. All sites - including ones which have not yet been subject to action - must make necessary changes by 1 September.
Guy Anker, deputy editor of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "It’s utterly ridiculously that you can't always trust the first figure you're shown when booking a hotel – something our 2018 investigation into this matter highlighted.
"It's confusing for customers and makes doing a meaningful price comparison very hard. We’re glad a number of large firms have committed to being more transparent but the fact we’re even in this position shows the anti-consumer practices that are out there.
Rory Boland, Which? travel editor, said: “We have repeatedly exposed sites like these for using dodgy tactics like pressure selling, sneaky charges, dodgy deals and discount claims so it’s absolutely right that the CMA is taking strong action.
“These changes must now be swiftly implemented to stop these misleading practices, so customers can trust the deals they’re presented with are really deals and are told the total cost of their room upfront when booking a hotel online.”