Regulator finds two-thirds of travel websites are misleading consumers

Shock levels will be determined by your level of cynicism – but a probe of more than 350 travel websites has shown that 235 did not display reliable prices for flights and hotels.

One of the most common problems was that additional charges for a product often became apparent only at a later stage in the booking process.

Another issue surrounded the availability of promotional prices for a room or flight.

The investigation by the European Commission was carried out in October 2016 in conjunction with a number of consumer protection authorities.

Other parts of the study showed that almost a third of the websites under investigation did not display the total price or the way it is calculated.

Focusing on the so-called scarcity factor, one in four travel websites failed to disclose that messaging around “only two rooms left” or “only available today” related strictly to their own website’s allocation, rather than the entire inventory available at a property.

The Commission has declined to name and shame any of the websites found to be failing consumers over pricing or confusing discounts.

Other findings:

  • 21% displayed “special prices” that were not available.
  • 23% only showed limited information about a hotel (name and address of establishment); 4% did not provide any details.
  • 21% presented reviews that were unclear or lacking in transparency and/or had question marks over their “truthfulness”.

Commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, Věra Jourová, says the brands are “misleading consumers” and those travel websites “need to respect the European consumer rules, just like a travel agent would”.

Each of the websites will now have to work with national consumer protection regulators to “correct the irregularities”, the report says.

The EU-wide probe into travel websites is part of an annual “sweep” of consumer-facing services in the European Union (as well as Norway and Iceland).

Previous efforts have focused on electronic goods, credit services and digital content.

Ryanair, a long-standing critic of third party travel websites that it deems to be failing on the transparency of pricing front, has already chimed in on the report.

Chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs, says:

“It’s patently obvious that consumers across Europe are being misled and overcharged by some of these websites.

“We welcome this report, which exposes these anti-consumer practices and we hope its findings will lead to greater protection for consumers. Our advice to customers is simple: book directly on the website to avoid being misled or overcharged.”

NB: Travel websites angry image via BigStock.

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



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  1. Peter K

    And about bloody time.

    Travel (most travel agent practices, both online and offline) has always been a consumer deceiving retail category for about 50 years and gotten away with it.

    Disclosure has always been lacking.

    Customers have been gullible and uninformed.

    It is not confined to online travel sites.

    It is the “internet of things” and better consumer protection legislation that is finally moving it in the right direction.

    The scandal of it is: “Why has it taken so long?”

  2. Markus Luthe

    The European hospitality industry welcomes the European Commission’s investigations, too, and calls on for stepping up better enforcement on other misleading practices as well, such as the clear indication of paid for results.


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