You will have seen, at some point in your life, a Facebook or Instagram ad showing you a beautiful hotel room in a gorgeous city for an unexpectedly low price (let’s say £50 per night). This is probably because you looked at a picture of that city at some point, maybe even Googled it. You might have scrolled through the ad’s images to see what else is on offer, or even clicked on it to check out the reservation. You type in a date that you can travel on, and the price goes up a little to £75 per night. Then you see that it’s been booked twenty times in the past forty-eight hours, and there are only a few rooms left. You’d be a fool not to snap it up so you find your credit card, head to the checkout... only to find that there has been more money in the shape of taxes and extra charges added to the final amount. At this point, you’re emotionally invested in your trip and even in this hotel in particular, so you pay up the £90 per night. That spontaneous long weekend away nearly doubles in price, but you still feel like you got a good deal.
Things Are About To Change
On Wednesday 6 February 2019, BBC News reported that hotel booking sites have been warned about misleading customers with dishonest offers, hidden fees and false comparisons. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has given them until 1 September 2019 to follow their new rules.
What do we think of this?
Well, it’s about time. These sneaky strategies try to make you part with your money quicker in a panic-induced purchase, spurred on by limited offers and uber-popular hotels.
This is what some hotel booking sites are guilty of:
- Altering and influencing rankings as a result of payment
- Giving false impressions of hotel popularity
- Promoting deals that aren’t available
- Omitting charges from the price
So that great deal you saw for a hotel room next weekend? Not so great.
To test out just how prevalent this problem is, we went onto the websites they named in the article and searched for a random booking: a hotel room in Barcelona for one night on Saturday 6 April for two adults. This is what we found.
The first thing we spotted were “bestseller” labels, suggesting that this was one of their most popular bookings. Did you know that the rankings on some websites are biased because they have partnership deals with the hotel? This means that they are often labelled as a “guest favourite” or “bestseller” without the need to provide proof of this claim. If you saw this, you’d presume other people liked it, and therefore you’d be more likely to book it; it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy in which stating that a hotel room is a bestseller makes it one.
Also, sold out listings regularly cropped up. This is just one part of their scare tactics to make you rush into booking a hotel room for fear that the one you want will sell out too. It’s a load of rubbish, by the way. If you go to the hotel’s homepage, there are often still rooms left.
Another case of pressure selling is when they inform you how many people have “just booked” this hotel room. Whilst they’re trying to show you that not only is it desirable, it could also sell out soon. However, these websites don’t disclose that these are on different dates, for different periods of time and even different room types.
The final part of the pressure selling trifecta is the suggestion that there are only a few rooms left at the price you can see. "Book today or lose this price” makes you think it’ll be more expensive when you come back tomorrow – in reality, very little will change cost-wise and the percentage of reserved rooms can refer to any room type in any hotel in the area. For a Barcelona search, that’s well over 3200 potential hotel reservations, leaving you with 700+ rooms to choose from.
What was interesting is that the official CMA investigation found hotel rooms listed with the phrase “includes taxes and charges”, but when we went to the same website, they had included the price – it seems they have taken one step towards improvement.
However, another of the websites didn’t stipulate whether the additional fees were included in the price at all, let alone how much they were. This means that when you get to the checkout, your good deal isn’t so good anymore. Sometimes, it will cost more than the hotel’s own website is charging. In the UK, you’d never go into a shop to buy a pair of jeans, only for them to charge you extra for taking the hanger off, putting it in a bag and completing the transaction. Or what about if there was one pair of jeans left in the shop, on which it said that fifteen other people bought the same jeans that day, or that it was the last pair even though there are several more in the stock room? What you see is what you pay, and that should naturally extend to your holiday bookings. Obviously, in the US and other countries, the sales tax rules are different but nine times out of ten, you should be aware of how much it is before you reach the cash register.
By naming the six biggest hotel aggregators, the CMA has highlighted to the public all the problems with misleading sales tactics. They are enforcing fairer and more transparent listings, where it’s clear to the customer what they’re paying for and not rushing them into a purchase.
At TransferTravel.com, we’ve always operated a what you see is what you pay policy, so that every price that’s advertised on our site, our social media and other advertisements is 100% accurate.
Hotel booking sites should act with their customers in mind; transparency is key. Marking up prices when they’ve already hooked you with their cheap adverts is false and underhanded.
This news is great for consumers and should encourage online booking sites for other types of travel to follow suit. It’s about time they put their customers first.