For better or worse, in recent years travel booking sites have dominated the world of online holiday booking. Each site offers an incentive for booking with them, some are reserve now pay later and many offer heavy discounts. But these handy sites have come under scrutiny for not offering transparency in pricing and using pressurising sales tactics to get travellers to book.
So, what’s the problem?
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the government department in the UK responsible for strengthening business competition and preventing and reducing anti-competitive activities, has been investigating well-known booking sites for misleading and pressure-selling sales tactics.
This takes into consideration several tactics including and not limited to:
Over-inflating prices to suggest big discounts – there is some evidence that this type of practice is not following UK law.
False popularity – you’ve seen the ‘one room left’ alert or ‘this hotel was booked 20 times in the last hour’. Often customers aren’t looking at the same date and the hotel has plenty of rooms.
Hidden charges – the price per night is stated at the beginning of the booking process but towards the end the total is significantly more due to taxes and other hidden charges.
Skewing search results in favour of hotels paying more commission – Search results are always displayed in order of ‘favourite’ which usually means those paying more commission.
See below circled in red some examples of what to look out for.*
Which websites are being investigated?
Websites include Trivago, ebookers, Agoda and booking.com although all sites are being requested to toe the line with the CMA.
Aren’t these tactics standard for any sales process?
These sales tactics are frustrating for customers trying to get the best deal, but they aren’t new. Many companies price products and services high for a short while so they can make a discount without affecting their margin. Market traders love using the words ‘discount’, ‘bargain’ and ‘special offer’. Travel agents are always incentivised. Rail and airlines also use the ‘only two seats left at this price’. And Google lists ‘sponsored ads’ at the top of search results when looking for a holiday.
The important thing to remember is the CMA are looking to make online holiday booking more transparent.
When will the investigation be concluded and what changes will take place?
The deadline for booking sites to make changes is September 1st, 2019. Sites will be required to show the total cost of hotels from the beginning of the sales process (no hidden charges) and display true original prices with discounts together with other more transparent sales techniques.
How can you get the best deal?
In the meantime, how can you ensure you get the best deal when booking a hotel, here are our top tips.
- Keep your eyes on the prize – Don’t be swayed by any pressure tactics. A hotel might have 200 rooms so selling 20 in a day doesn’t equate to massive popularity
- Cross-check sites – If you find a hotel in a destination you want at a good price, be sure to check it out on multiple booking sites and direct (sometimes a hotel’s own website will offer an extra incentive to book with them, so they don’t pay commission to the booking agent)
- Concentrate on price not discount – It’s easy to get carried away thinking you’re getting a bargain when you look at a discount but think about it pragmatically. Are you happy to pay that price for a hotel of this standard?
- Sort searches by price – Most booking sites will sort search results by ‘most popular’ which usually means those hotels that pay the most commission. Re-sort the results by price or star rating (depending on your preference)
- Be flexible on dates – Its likely that booking a Sunday in low season will be significantly cheaper and less popular with travellers. Don’t rush to book these dates if that’s the case, take your time and find the price and hotel that suits you.
*these are examples, we are not highlighting tactics of particular websites.