The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation to find out whether customers using hotel booking sites are really getting the best deal for them.
In a statement, the CMA said it is “concerned about the clarity accuracy and presentation” of information on the sites and believes this could be misleading customers and stopping them from finding the best deal. The watchdog commented that booking sites’ practices could be in breach of consumer law.
The practices coming under the CMA’s scrutiny include:
- How search results are ranked once a customer has entered their requirements, and whether this is influenced by the amount of commission hotels pay the site.
- Whether booking sites create a false impression of room availability by claiming how many people have looked at the room or how long the quoted price will last to put pressure on customers to make a purchase.
- Whether sites’ discount claims are reported truthfully, for instance basing price comparisons on higher rates that only applied for a specific period or putting a lower weekday rate against a higher weekend price.
- The extent to which sites include all fees in the price first shown to customers or whether bookers face hidden charges such as taxes or booking fees.
The CMA has written to several sites requesting information on their practices, claiming that it wants to understand the impact these have on consumers. It is also asking customers and hotels to share any experiences that might be relevant to the investigation. Booking sites are warned that if the CMA finds their practices are misleading, they could face enforcement action.
Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “Around 70 per cent of people who shopped around for hotels last year used these sites and they should all be confident they have chosen the best accommodation for their needs and are getting a good deal.
“To do this, sites need to give their customers information that is clear, accurate and presented in a way that enables people to choose the best deal for them. But we are concerned that this is not happening and that the information on sites may in fact be making it difficult for people to make the right choice.