Hotel holidays are often more expensive when booked online rather than directly with the hotel, a Which? investigation has claimed. Online travel agents of the likes of Booking.com or Expedia are popular ways to book holidays for many Britons. Such sites tend to compare the cost of hotel rooms across different websites.
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However, consumer site Which? has said that using the sites could cost travellers more.
Which? said they contacted 10 hotels to ask if they could offer a better deal than that offered by an online travel agent (OTA) or on their own website.
The site claimed that eight hotels were able to offer a better price or other incentives such as free breakfasts or upgrades.
Their research suggested that travellers are paying up to 12 per cent more for their rooms than they need to.
Which?’s research found that it is usually more expensive to book a hotel room online than booking directly by phone or email.
This is due to “a combination of commission charged by OTAs like Booking.com and Expedia on every booking made through their websites, and OTAs enforcing ‘rate-parity clauses’ in their contracts with hotels – clauses which prevent hotels from offering lower prices on their own websites than those listed on the OTAs’ websites.”
According to Which?, OTAs charge high levels of commission (typically between 15 and 25 per cent) on every booking.
They said that hotels – especially smaller properties like family-run B&Bs – cannot afford to absorb the cost and often have to pass on it to customers.
When Which? contacted Booking.com and Expedia they allegedly denied to Which? that their commissions were driving up prices.
But the consumer site said that they “found that more often than not, hotels will be able to offer a better rate if they are contacted directly, either over the phone, via email, or in person, as rate-parity clauses only apply to prices offered online.”
A Booking.com spokeswoman told Express.co.uk: “Properties choose whatever prices they want to list on Booking.com, which they can do at will and free of charge.
“Then Booking works hard to advertise their property for them to customers all over the world.
“If Booking can indeed find them a customer, the property then (and only then) pays a small fee in exchange for the service.
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“By contrast, if a hotel or small bed & breakfast in the countryside for example, were to advertise on TV in markets all over the world in order to find customers and generate business, it would likely be so expensive that the properties would need to charge even higher prices for their rooms in order to stay in business.
“Booking is a much more cost-effective platform for properties to advertise, allowing them to pay only when they generate actual business.”
Express.co.uk has also contacted Expedia for comment.
Rate-parity clauses have been banned in France, Italy and Austria for preventing competition.
However, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK chose not to ban the clauses in its recent review of the hotel booking industry.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “Customers shouldn’t be duped into thinking they’re getting the best price from a hotel booking site when more often than not, they can get a better deal by avoiding its commission and booking directly with the hotel.
“Hotel booking sites might be a good place to start your search, but you should always call or email the hotel for the best chance of getting the cheapest deal – even in cases where they can’t offer a better price, there’s a good chance they’ll throw in a freebie or two.”
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