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“There’s Only One Room Left”: Why Hotel Booking Sites Are Untrustworthy

Vacationers should still be wary of dubious sales tactics when using hotel booking sites, which ones? Travel warned.

Agoda, Booking.com, eBookers, Expedia, Hotels.com and Trivago have been ordered to phase out questionable practices following an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

But which one? Travel discovered that all of these dubious practices always take place before the summer holiday season. While sites have until September 1 to phase out these practices, holidaymakers risk being left behind if they book before then.

Video: Hotel booking pitfalls to watch out for


For companies you can trust, check out the results of our best and worst hotel booking sites.

Don’t rely on discounts

We have found that some sites are confusing the issue with misleading “was/now” discount claims.

A standard room advertised at a discount might seem like a bargain, but it’s less convincing when you find out the savings were calculated by comparing standard and deluxe room rates.

The standard room is not on sale at all – it’s just cheaper than a suite.

Trivago has taken an equally creative approach to discounts. When we looked at Hotel Millesime de Paris via Expedia – as reported by Trivago – it claimed a 63% saving (but that was only the case if you compared it to the most expensive price available on another site, rather than average).

And it gets worse. When we clicked, the “more expensive” site was actually offering the same room for £240 – £4 cheaper than Expedia. So not only does Trivago make inaccurate discount claims, it costs you money.

From September 1, all savings must be genuine or Trivago could end up in court.

Find real search results

Once you’ve entered your destination and dates, don’t assume that the most relevant hotels appear first in search results.

Properties pay a premium for a prominent position at the top of the page and it’s not always clear to holidaymakers.

On eBookers and Expedia, it’s too easy to miss the word “sponsored” in paid ads. Meanwhile, the only clue on Booking.com is a yellow thumbs up icon. Hover over it and a pop-up explains that this hotel “could pay a little more Booking.com” – but only if you bother to read the blurb.

The AMC says booking sites must clearly differentiate between sponsored and non-sponsored listings before the deadline.

Until then, you can filter searches by price or location. This will remove the sponsored links from the site.

Ignore Pressure Selling

Some 44% of which? Members admitted that Booking.com’s “only one room left on our site” prompt would influence their decision to book.

However, when we clicked, in some cases there were over 50 (slightly different) rooms available.

For example, if you had skipped over the last double room (with private external bathroom) at the Balmore Guest House in Edinburgh, you might be upset to learn that there were seven other double rooms available (with bathroom) for the same price.

When it says one room left, it means a room that is of exactly the same quality, occupancy and price as this one – whether or not there are several dozen similar rooms that will make the case just as well.

The CMA requires sites to tell the “full story” and not to use false or misleading claims about popularity and availability. Until then, take prompts like this, as well as “x number of people searching” with a pinch of salt.

Beware of hidden fees

It’s the classic trap: you’re sucked into a cheap overall price, only to find sneaky fees – such as resort fees or resort taxes – added to the checkout later.

Most sites have become more transparent when it comes to pricing. However, we still found Agoda misleading customers in April.

Take the Grand Hyatt New York Hotel for £189 a night. When we clicked through to the payment page, a £30 hotel tax and service charge suddenly materialized.

And that’s not all. The fine print revealed that a £27 ‘destination charge’ would also be collected at the property. Suddenly, that nightly rate jumped £57, a 30% increase.