Booking.com has been rapped by Dutch authorities over “misleading” customers over free cancellation.
The Dutch Advertising Code Committee upheld a complaint arguing the online accommodation giant offered free cancellation at the Hotel Centro Vitoria in Vitoria-Gasteiz in Spain last May for seven double or twin rooms, a booking worth £1,527.
Booking.com had advertised that no prepayment was required and cancellation was free up until noon on the day of arrival.
But hidden within the fine print was a clause that the free cancellation did not apply to bookings of more than six rooms, for which “additional supplements may apply”.
The complainant was asked to pay 50% of the total booking fee.
But Booking.com argued that the complainant should have lodged their complaint directly with the hotel, which it said was responsible for payment conditions, and claimed the fine print text was “clearly presented”.
It said the hotel had contacted the complainant as soon as it became evident they had booked seven rooms and were not entitled to free cancellation.
The reservation was cancelled free of charge in September 2017.
Booking.com said it was “not surprising” that hotels have different cancellation policies for large bookings as it represents a greater financial risk.
But the chairman of the Dutch Advertising Code Committee concluded: “The defense shows that in certain cases cancellation is not free of charge, and part of the price must be paid in advance. This is essential information that the average consumer needs to make an informed decision about a transaction.
“The average consumer will not expect that a restriction has been included in these announcements that completely excludes the advantages mentioned in the price [free cancellation].
“To this extent, the committee deems the expression misleading.”
The chairman also concluded that Booking.com’s argument that it is not responsible for hotels’ individual payment conditions “does not have an affect on the purpose”.
“The fact that a hotel can have its own (deviating) payment conditions does not absolve Booking.com from the responsibility to place clear and correct information on its website,” the chairman said.
The chairman also recommended his conclusion should apply to all similar Booking.com ads.
The case was dealt with in the Netherlands but also affects Booking.com’s UK portal.
Advertising regulations are dealt under the jurisdiction of the relevant country in which they originate.
The Dutch Advertising Code Committee is a member of the European Advertising Standards Alliance, along with the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority.