CMA publishes principles on accommodation booking websites

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published principles and accompanying guidance to help accommodation booking websites comply with consumer protection laws.

The Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) has published a set of principles that online accommodation booking providers should work within to ensure they comply with consumer law. Publication of the principles follows in the wake of an investigation which identified serious concerns about certain practices commonly used in the online accommodation booking sector. Expedia, Booking.com, Agoda, Hotels.com, ebookers and trivago have given commitments to change their practices. 

The CMA recognises that online accommodation booking platforms can be a valuable source of information for people looking for hotels and other short-term accommodation. Consequently, it is crucial that these platforms operate in a way which is fair and not misleading to consumers. 

The principles for online hotel booking companies, travel agents and hotel companies address, in detail, issues such as:

  • failure to disclose the effect of payments/commission on search results;
  • misleading reference prices;
  • misleading presentation of prices and misleading popularity;
  • statements about availability of accommodation.

The principles build on previous CMA guidance on unfair terms and the Chartered Trading Standards Institute’s pricing practices guide.

The CMA has also produced a short guide to the principles, which sets out the following key points:

Search rankings

  • prominently tell customers if the money you earn on bookings or “clicks” affects the order of results the customer sees
  • clearly label ‘paid for’ search results – for example, if a hotel has paid for a pre-determined or prominent position, say so
  • clearly differentiate ‘paid for’ listings with those that aren’t ‘paid for’

Reference prices

  • do not present something as a discount – by using “strikethrough” prices or savings claims – unless the offer gives a real saving on a “like for like” basis
  • if you are making a “was/now” discount claim, make it clear what the “was” price relates to – was it for different stay dates or different occupancy?

Hidden charges

  • be upfront about unavoidable fees, charges and taxes and always give the total price
  • never try to hide unavoidable costs - revealing them towards the end of a purchase can be misleading and unfair

Pressure selling

  • do not use false or misleading messages about popularity and availability
  • when making statements about availability, make sure you tell the whole story, for example ‘XX people have viewed this property in the last 30 minutes for different dates’, ‘Destination Y is XX% booked on this site for your dates’ and ‘Only X rooms left at this price on this site’
  • Online hotel booking companies that do not meet their obligations under consumer protection law by 1 September 2019 may be subject to enforcement action by the CMA.

Published: 2019-03-01T11:00:00

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