Holiday Comparison Websites Have Been Scamming Us This Whole Time

We really thought we were being super-savvy...

woman booking holiday

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

Booking a holiday should be a dreamy process. You sit down to peruse your favourite destinations, browsing hotels, seeking out infinity pools. You use comparison websites, of course, because you’re no fool, you know how to get the best deal. But then, as you scroll past the 4-star hotel you're only kind of keen on, an alert warning '10 other people are looking at this hotel’ flashes across the screen. Just as panic bubbles up, you see: ‘This room has been booked 8 times in the last 24 hours’, and your eyes widen as you hastily budget around the cost per night. By the time you see ‘Only 2 rooms left!’, you're clicking 'book' before you’ve even checked flights for your dates. And suddenly, you’ve booked an entire holiday based on a hotel you were pretty ambivalent about.

It’s a familiar scenario, one we’ve been caught in more than once. While we’ve previously justified our rushed purchase in the knowledge it was the best possible deal, it turns out we can’t even do that anymore, because we were being fooled this entire time. According to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), holiday comparison websites are no longer allowed to promote misleading discount claims by, for example, making rooms seem more popular, or relatively cheaper than they truly are.

Expedia,, Agoda, Trivago, and eBookers have all been named in the investigation, which began in June 2018, with the CMA now issuing guidelines to prevent misleading selling tactics. For example, when a booking site will tell you that other customers are looking at a hotel, they must now specify whether it’s for the exact same dates, or for different dates. They’re also no longer able to place sold-out hotels within search results, which was used in an effort to make people book quicker.

The CMA also found sites comparing higher weekend room rates with weekday rates, or luxury suites with standard rooms, creating confusion around what discounts and deals are actually available at the time of booking.

‘The CMA has taken enforcement action to bring to an end misleading sales tactics, hidden charges and other practices in the online hotel booking market,’ said CMA Chairman Andrew Tyrie, continuing: ‘These have been wholly unacceptable.’

Further action includes booking sites being transparent about the grading system of hotels, including stating whether hotels are paying to be ranked higher in search results, and to display other charges involved in booking a hotel (like the taxes, resort fees and booking fees).

However, although they didn’t specify any names, not all of the companies investigated were guilty of the CMA's list of bad practices. And for those who are guilty, they still have a solid 8 months to continue besting us, as the companies have until the 1st September to comply with the CMA’s demands. If they don't get their (holiday) houses in order by then, they will risk being sued.

With the CMA committed to making the sector fair, they have also promised to implement the same rules across the entire industry. At a time when the prospect of a no-deal Brexit is making booking a holiday far more stressful than it used to be, the least we deserve is assurance our much-vaunted holiday deals are for real.

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