Investigators launch probe into holiday comparison websites

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Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
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The competition watchdog has launched an investigation into hotel comparison websites to make sure consumers are not being ripped off.

The probe will look at practices including pressure selling, the use of hidden charges to hike prices and claims about the discounts available.

Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) chief executive Andrea Coscelli warned the information on websites could be making it more difficult for travellers to make informed choices.

The CMA has written to firms across the sector requiring them to give information about their activities.

Looking deeper at tactics

The investigation will examine tactics including:

- How hotels are ranked in online searches, including whether results are influenced by the amount of commission a destination pays to the website.

- Pressure selling, where websites can create a false impression of the number of rooms available or rush customers into making a decision.

- Whether the discounts advertised for a hotel are accurate, for example comparing a higher weekend room rate with the weekday rate for which the customer has searched.

- Hidden charges such as taxes or booking fees which may not be covered in the advertised price.

‘About 70 per cent should be confident’

Mr Coscelli said the investigation would ‘see whether sites are breaking consumer law’ and make sure they ‘help, not hinder’ travellers.

He 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.

‘In today’s increasingly busy world, sites like this offer real potential to help holiday-makers save time and money searching for their ideal get-away.

‘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.’

Expert advice

Alex Neill, managing director of home products and services at consumer group Which?, said: ‘When shopping around to book a hotel, it’s vital that consumers are confident that they can find the best deal for them.

‘We found evidence of booking sites using pressure selling tactics and making claims about discount deals that don’t add up. If the CMA finds breaches of consumer law, they should take enforcement action against those sites.’