Online vacation bookings: watch out for the pitfalls
Find a hotel room or tourist accommodation? For 93% of customers, it now takes just a few clicks on online booking platform such as booking, Hotels.com, Kayak or Abritel Homeway, via site comparators such as Trivago or even via online review sites such as Tripadvisor. Omnipresent (just over 36 million overnight stays were purchased there last year) and offering a huge choice (29 million options on the leader booking), these sites are not, however, free from criticism. They are even regularly singled out for certain contentious practices such as those identified by the Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention (DGCCRF), in its summer 2019 guide.
Between false promotions, fabricated traveler reviews, the payment of undue taxes or fees or even real scams, here is a non-exhaustive anthology of small arrangements with the truth that any Internet user wishing to travel can come across during from his online research.
Fake promo, real price
In its guide, based on a large national survey carried out in 2014 and 2015, the DGCCRF points to “prices crossed out and advantageous comparisons with fanciful or non-comparable prices suggesting a false economy”. Despite a call to order, accompanied by financial penalties for certain sites, the practice continues.
An example: when looking for a room for one night from August 24 to 25 in the seaside resort of La Baule (Loire-Atlantique), this offer unearthed on Hotels.com allows you to stay for 301 euros, instead of 375 euros at the strikethrough price , at the very chic Barrière Hermitage (five stars). On the hotel’s website, the same service is billed… 295 euros.
On closer inspection, the crossed out price does not correspond to any promotion, but to the same service including in addition a cancellation option until the day before departure for this significant additional cost…
The board : always check the price of the rooms and the conditions of purchase directly on the hotel website.
A search on Google with the term “hotel” followed by the name of the city where you want to stay inevitably leads to a page displaying the booking.com site in first position. The platform wants to maintain its status as market leader and is investing accordingly to be positioned as such.
By searching for the website of a particular hotel, again on Google, the result is the same and the different reservation platforms most often arrive in the top three results. And some try to smuggle the Internet user into believing that they will click on the official site of the establishment sought.
By typing “Beach Hotel”, a four-star hotel in Trouville-sur-Mer (Calvados) for example, the fourth search result resembles, in its presentation, like two drops of water the official website of the establishment. It actually refers to a local platform, hotelatrouville.com, which uses… booking.com as a booking tool!
The board : check, often at the bottom of the home page, the legal notices allowing you to clearly identify who is in charge of a site on the Internet.
“Last room available”, really?
The same technique, aimed at “carrying out an immediate purchase decision” according to the DGCCRF, can be presented in different ways with the mentions “last room available”, “12 Internet users are watching the ad at the moment”, or even “establishment booked twice on your dates in the last hour”.
It is impossible to validate the veracity of these statements when you log on to book, but the DGCCRF assures us: they are most often “false allegations” to encourage purchase.
The board : Don’t get carried away with false urgency by comparing the same offers on multiple platforms.
Ghost rentals and fake rental companies
Bogus advertisements and fictitious owners: misadventure regularly strikes customers platform for booking vacation rentals between individuals. About twenty of them were victims, a few days ago, of this scam via the Abritel Homeaway site, for rentals in the south of France and abroad.
Their mistake? Have accepted, at the instigation of the false lessors, to pay the rental “hand by hand”, via bank transfer or postal order without going through the payment system of the platform, so as not to have to pay the costs of reservation.
The board : use the online payment function offered by the platform to avoid, as much as possible, any risk of scam and keep the possibility of being compensated in the event of a problem.