If you’re trying to book a hotel online and notice three other users doing the same, chances are they probably don’t exist.
According to a new report from The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the U.K., which has been investigating hotel booking sites since last fall, some major sites are misleading consumers into buying “deals.”
Although the CMA did not name the sites, the Guardian reports Expedia and Booking.com are some of the largest booking sites worldwide.
Some sites were pressuring users to purchase hotel rooms by adding a “one room left” message or telling consumers other people were interested in the same deal.
“Booking sites can make it so much easier to choose your holiday, but only if people are able to trust them,” CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said in a statement. “Holidaymakers must feel sure they’re getting the deal they expected, whether that’s securing the discount promised or receiving reliable information about availability of rooms. It’s also important that no one feels pressured by misleading statements into making a booking.”
READ MORE: How to score best deal when booking a hotel — tips from travel experts
She added the CMA is demanding sites to “think again” when it comes to how they present information.
“[The CMA will] make sure they’re complying with the law. Our next step is to take any necessary action – including through the courts if needed – to ensure people get a fair deal.”
In their findings, the report also included when it came to hotel rankings, some hotels paid booking websites a commission to be ranked higher when a consumer was looking for a deal.
The CMA also reviewed whether the discount claims made on sites offered a fair comparison for customers.
For example, it found that some discount claims were based on criteria irrelevant to the customer’s search, such as showing a discount based on a higher weekend room rate when the customer had searched for a weekday rate.
It also found many sites commonly used hidden charges, hitting consumers with an unexpected fee right before they checked out.
“The CMA will be requiring the sites to take action to address its concerns, where they are believed to be breaking consumer protection law. It can either secure legally binding commitments from those involved to change their business practices or, if necessary, take them to court.”
READ MORE: Book early or last minute? Tips for getting the best travel deals
Booking deals online
And while it is uncertain what the CMA will do with this information, how it applies specifically to Canada, and which sites use these methods, travel expert Rishi Modi of Next Departure tells Global News there are several things Canadians can do to make sure they are not getting ripped off by sites.
“Make sure prices are listed in Canadian dollars. Quite often, people come across a U.S. booking site such as Priceline and Orbitz, and prices are listed in USD,” he says via email.
Also, watch out for sponsored posts on websites that highlight certain hotels. “When you’re looking at hotel rankings on TripAdvisor, they will list a hotel where it’s sponsored and not ranked accordingly. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but booking sites are getting paid to promote hotels which [should] clearly be marked as sponsored.”
READ MORE: The biggest travelling pet peeves for Canadian travellers — and how to deal with them
And always be alert of currency exchange rates. “If you’re booking a hotel located in Europe, the booking site will list the price in Canadian but will charge your credit card in Euros.”
Travel expert Corrine McDermott of Have Baby Will Travel adds if you are flexible with resort, destination or room type, you should take advantage of last-minute pricing to save. “However, inventory starts to decline as the dates get closer, so if you’ve got your eye on a specific deal or are hoping for prices to drop on a specific place, you may be disappointed.”
She also recommends making sure you fill out all relevant information if someone else is travelling with you. “For some properties, once a child is 12 or older, they are considered an adult and specific room categories may be off limits. In these instances, it might make sense to pick up the phone.”
And if you’re lost, compare prices with an agent.
Global News reached out to Expedia Canada, Booking.com and Kayak for a comment but did not hear back by the time of publication.
© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.