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Booking sites agree to stop ‘misleading’ sales tactics

Pressure sale:
Type of hotel ad
by Booking.com
that competition
watchdog ruled
must change

EXPEDIA and trivago are among six online hotel booking sites forced to make major changes after an investigation by the competition watchdog.

Booking.com, Agoda, Hotels.com and ebookers were also investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) following ‘serious concerns’ over misleading sales tactics and hidden charges.

Changes include making search results clearer and ending practices that give a false impression of a hotel’s availability.

The websites must also make discount claims more transparent and display all compulsory charges. Andrew Tyrie, CMA chairman, said the enforcement action had been taken to tackle ‘wholly unacceptable’ practices in the online hotel booking market. The six sites have committed to the changes which must be made by September 1, the CMA said.

Research by Which? in December 2017 found that two nights at the Hotel Ares Eiffel in Paris were available for £404 through Expedia’s ‘flash sale’. A day after the sale ended, the same dates went up to £628, but a fortnight later were at £382 — £22 lower than the sale price.

Guy Anker, deputy editor of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: “It’s utterly ridiculous that you can’t always trust the first figure you’re shown when booking a hotel — something our 2018 investigation into this matter highlighted.

“It’s confusing for customers and makes doing a meaningful price comparison very hard.

“We’re glad a number of large firms have committed to being more transparent but the fact we’re even in this position shows the anti-consumer practices that are out there.

“While some firms have committed to playing fairer, don’t be surprised if others fail to show the true cost.”

Rory Boland, travel editor of Which? said: ‘These changes must now be swiftly implemented to stop these misleading practices, so customers can trust the deals they’re presented with are really deals & are told the total cost of their room upfront when booking a hotel online.’

In research by Which? in December 2017, before CMA launched their investigation, they found that two nights at nights at Paris’ Ares Eiffel hotel were available for £404 through Expedia’s ‘flash sale’. A day after the sale ended, the same dates in September went up to £628. However, a fortnight later, a new 40% off promotion was running and the same stay was available for £382 — £22 cheaper than the sale price.

Barratt vows to build on its bumper profits

BARRATT has reported a rise in pre-tax profits, which jumped 19.1 per cent to £408million in the second half of last year. The housebuilder saw sales rise 7.2 per cent to £2.1billion on the back of the Help to Buy scheme for first-time buyers and ‘attractive’ mortgage finance. Barratt also said it was working with suppliers to ensure the ‘continuity of supply of non-UK manufactured components’ ahead of Brexit. Chief executive David Thomas was confident of ‘a good financial and operational performance’ in 2019.

BUSINESS BITES

■ OCADO has warned of a sales hit after fire ripped through its Andover warehouse. The online grocer has shut the Hampshire site, which processes 30,000 orders a week. Its shares fell six per cent on the news.

INTERSERVE has agreed an equity deal with lenders to cut its £650million debts to £275million. The restructure of the outsourcing giant follows the collapse of rival Carillion in January last year.

■ GLAXOSMITHKLINE said its profits will take a five to nine per cent knock this year after a generic rival to its asthma drug Advair was approved. The pharmaceuticals giant reported an £8.7billion profit for last year.

■ A MERGER of rail operations between France’s Alstom and Germany’s Siemens has been vetoed by the EU. Competition watchdogs, including in the UK, feared the new company would be too dominant.

■ BRIGHTHOUSE is to close 30 high street stores, affecting 350 jobs. The rent-to-own retailer, which employs 3,000 people, said it was working to redeploy staff but redundancies would be inevitable.