While booking hotels and flights online is increasingly becoming popular, problems with online travel services have become one of the most common types of consumer complaints, according to a study by the European Commission.
Following complaints received by European consumer centres, in October 2016 the European Commission and EU consumer protection authorities launched a coordinated screening of 352 price comparison and travel booking websites across 28 countries (26 EU countries, Norway and Iceland).
The study revealed that two thirds – 67 percent – of travel comparison and booking websites checked displayed unreliable pricing. In one third of the cases, the price first shown was not the same as the final price; in one fifth of the cases, promotional offers were not really available; and in almost one third of the cases, the total price or the way it was calculated was not clear.
The consumer protection authorities have asked these websites to comply with EU consumer legislation. This legislation requires them to be fully transparent about prices, and to present offers in a clear way, at an early stage in the booking process.
Vera Jourova, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said: ‘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. The companies concerned need to respect the European consumer rules, just like a travel agent would. Consumer authorities will now require the websites to solve these issues. Consumers deserve the same protection online and offline.’
Leading European regional airlines Ryanair has welcomed the European Commission report as well as EU’s decision to invoke national enforcement procedures to ensure that the websites comply with EU consumer legislation. Ryanair has been engaged in several legal cases across Europe against ‘screenscraper’ websites such as Opodo and eDreams to ensure that Ryanair has appropriate contact details to communicate with its customers.
Ryanair’s Chief Marketing Officer, Kenny Jacobs, commented, ‘The Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vera Jourova, herself said that if reviews on comparison websites are biased or prices are not transparent, then these websites are misleading consumers. It’s patently obvious that consumers across Europe are being misled and overcharged by some of these websites. We welcome this report, which exposes these anti-consumer practices and we hope its findings will lead to greater protection for consumers. Our advice to customers is simple: book directly on the Ryanair.com website to avoid being misled or overcharged.’