Booking.com has been accused of flouting a crackdown aimed at outlawing pressure selling tactics on hotel room sales.
The claim follows spot checks by Which? Travel a week ago on six websites ordered to make changes following enforcement action by the Competition and Markets Authority.
The regulator stepped in amid concerns of pressure selling, misleading discount claims, the impact of commissions on search results and hidden charges and gave a September 1 deadline for compliance.
The CMA concluded that practices such as giving a false impression of a room’s popularity or not displaying the full cost upfront could potentially break consumer protection law and issued the deadline for changes to Expedia, Booking.com, Agoda, Hotels.com, ebookers and Trivago.
While Booking.com has made some changes to its site, it has not gone far enough, Which? claimed.
The consumer champion found that five out of ten of Booking.com’s ‘only one room left on our site’ claims failed to give an accurate picture of availability.
In one example, search results for the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge in London warned that just one ‘secret deal’ room was available – a superior double room with disability access priced at £232.
However, after clicking through to the booking page, Which? scrolled down to find another ten superior doubles with internal view available for a cheaper rate of £226. In total, 34 empty rooms were still available at the same hotel on the same night.
In another example, The Banjo B&B in Liverpool showed “one room left” – on a budget double room. When Which? clicked through there were four identical “budget double rooms” for the same price of £49.
In contrast, the five other named sites appeared to have cleaned up their acts on the specific issue of pressure selling. Agoda, for example, now tells customers: ‘We only have one left at this price.’
A Booking.com spokesperson told Which? that it had worked hard to implement the commitments agreed with the CMA, which include finding ways to inform customers about the data supporting messages on the availability and popularity of specific properties.
It also said it maintains ongoing collaboration to further enhance the consumer experience.
The company added: “The CMA closed its investigation into Booking.com without any finding or admission of an infringement, which we were very pleased with.”
Booking.com told the BBC: “We work continuously to bring transparency, choice and value to travellers, constantly testing and improving the way in which we present our services online.”
However, Which? Travel deputy editor Naomi Leach said: “We found clear evidence that Booking.com has not yet sufficiently cleaned up its act and is flouting the rules on pressure-selling, which could lead to millions of consumers being rushed into making a booking.
“It must now provide cast-iron guarantees that it won’t continue to mislead holidaymakers with these unscrupulous practices, otherwise the regulator will have to step in with strong action to bring it into line.”
The CMA last week announced a further 25 firms, including the likes of TripAdvisor, Airbnb and Google, have signed up to its consumer protection law principles for online booking sites.
These are designed to stamp out practices that could mislead people, stop them finding the best deal and potentially break consumer law.