- Video report by ITV News Health and Social Affairs Correspondent Rebecca Barry
Hotel booking websites are being investigated by the competition watchdog over concerns they could be misleading customers.
The Competition and Markets Authority is looking into whether price comparison and booking sites are breaking consumer laws and stopping people from finding the best deals.
Its investigation will examine:
- Search results
The extent to which search results are ranked and influenced by factors that may not be relevant to a customer's requirements - such as the amount of commission a hotel pays the site.
- Pressure selling
Whether customers are being rushed into making a booking, by making claims about how many people are looking at the same room, how many rooms are left, or how long a price is available for.
- Discount claims
Whether discount claims made on sites offer a fair comparison for customers. The claim that a discount is being offered could be based on a higher price - for example a weekend price - when the customer had searched for a weekday booking.
- Hidden charges
Whether people are later faced with unexpected fees, such as taxes or booking fees, after the initial search results are shown.
Companies have been asked to provide information to the watchdog about their practices, and the CMA has also requested customers and hotels that use the sites to share their experiences.
If sites are found to have broken consumer law, the watchdog warned it could take enforcement action.
Megan French, consumer expert at MoneySavingExpert.com gave the following tips on avoiding pitfalls when using price comparison sites
- Some sites hide the true cost of a stay until the final booking page and sometimes, you won’t find out how much you’ll pay in total until you get to the hotel. Many countries charge a £10-£30 per day room tax or ‘city tax’. It can mean that some hotels come up cheapest unfairly. Click all the way through to check the final price.
- Check if you can beat the price by going direct, sometimes they offer special deals if you do this.
- If a site says it has rooms 'on request', there may actually not be a room available. Be careful not to go for one of these and lose a firm cheap deal elsewhere.
- If you book with free cancellation, you may be able to cancel and rebook your room if the price drops, but always check the T&Cs first.
- Package holidays are usually covered under the ATOL or ABTA consumer protection schemes, so if the tour operator goes bust, you’re protected. But this doesn’t apply to hotel-only bookings, so if your stay is over £100, it can be worth paying on a credit card to give yourself Section 75 protection – this makes your credit card provider jointly liable if something goes wrong and you’ve booked directly.