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Online travel sites hopelessly unreliable: official report

April 10, 2017 Headline News 2 Comments Email Email

What would happen to a travel agent who got fares and pricing wrong two-thirds of the time? Something very similar is going on right now.

The agencies concerned are not bricks-and-mortar. A European Commission (EC) report into online travel booking, following a massive sweep of websites, has found two out of every three websites display misleading prices.

The survey, one of the most comprehensive ever undertaken, found online travel sites to be disturbingly unreliable and untrustworthy, with one third giving a final price which was not the same as the first price shown.

The EC is the European Union’s legislative body. Coincidentally, its finding comes at a sensitive time in Australia, where a debate is underway among travel industry leaders about whether the future lies with flesh-and-blood travel agents, or with artificial intelligence and robotic booking systems, or with a combination of the two.

The EC makes it plain which alternative it finds more trustworthy. Věra Jourová, the EC’s Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, made the following comment about online travel sites: “The companies concerned need to respect the European consumer rules, just like a travel agent would.”

The EC scrutiny gives no reason to put any faith in online travel booking. In one fifth of cases, promotional fares and prices displayed up front were not available at all – little use to travellers hoping for a bargain.

The EU scanned and checked 352 price comparison and travel booking websites in October 2016, finding that 235 gave prices that were unreliable.

“Consumers are encountering a growing number of problems with online travel services,” the EC warned.

“These services are now among the most frequent consumer complaints according to the European Consumer Centres.”

The EC found that many fare sites added price elements “at a late stage of the booking process without clearly informing the consumer”.  In some cases,  “promotional prices did not correspond to any available service”.

The websites have been ordered to bring their practices into line with EU consumer law, which requires them to be fully transparent about prices, and present their offers in a clear way at an early stage of the booking process.

Jourová commented: “The Internet provides consumers with plenty of information to prepare, compare and book their holidays. However, if the reviews on comparison websites are biased or prices are not transparent, these websites are misleading consumers. Consumer authorities will now require the websites to solve these issues. Consumers deserve the same protection online as offline.”

Key findings

  • Is what you believe you’ll pay the same as what you will actually pay? In one third of the cases, the price first shown is not the same as the final price.
  • Is it an offer or is it just bait? In one fifth of the cases, promotional offers were not actually available.
  • Puzzled mind or puzzling price? In almost one third of the cases the total price or the way it was calculated was not clear.
  • Last cheap room in the hotel or simply the last promoted room on the website? In one in four cases, websites did not make clear that statements about scarcity (e.g. “only 2 left” or “only available today”) applied strictly to their own website, not to the hotels or airlines they were dealing with.
  •  Of the 352 websites checked, only 23% (117) passed the first test for compliance with the relevant EU consumer rules and almost 67% of sites (235) were flagged for further investigation.

Written by Peter Needham

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:


    I have had to give many people a much reduced tour because a major website sold them rooms at a hotel where they were overbooked. Would not put them at another oceanfront hotel. Instead put them at a city hotel for the majority of the week.

    Don’t buy from anyone or any website where you cannot have recourse in your country or knock n their door when you return.

    I deliver what I promise and these countries should too!!

  2. Sampath Kumar says:

    Many people prefer to remain silent on their online experiences and thereafter, as they themselves are embarrassed to go public, since they themselves are to be blamed, since they imagined they were more professional at the time of making bookings,sitting in front of the computer to save money and secure arrangements in their time of convenience sitting on an arm chair at home.

    Rather then taking the advise of a a well experienced and trained expert in the field of travel n tourism which today comes at a price and not free.

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