67% of travel-booking websites display unreliable pricing, Europe report

While booking hotels and flights online is increasingly becoming popular, problems with online travel services have become one of the most common types of consumer complaints, according to a study by the European Commission.

Following complaints received by European consumer centres, in October 2016 the European Commission and EU consumer protection authorities launched a coordinated screening of 352 price comparison and travel booking websites across 28 countries (26 EU countries, Norway and Iceland).

The study revealed that two thirds – 67 percent – of travel comparison and booking websites checked displayed unreliable pricing. In one third of the cases, the price first shown was not the same as the final price; in one fifth of the cases, promotional offers were not really available; and in almost one third of the cases, the total price or the way it was calculated was not clear.

The consumer protection authorities have asked these websites to comply with EU consumer legislation. This legislation requires them to be fully transparent about prices, and to present offers in a clear way, at an early stage in the booking process.

Vera Jourova, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said: ‘The Internet provides consumers with plenty of information to prepare, compare and book their holidays. However, if the reviews on comparison websites are biased or prices are not transparent, these websites are misleading consumers. The companies concerned need to respect the European consumer rules, just like a travel agent would. Consumer authorities will now require the websites to solve these issues. Consumers deserve the same protection online and offline.’

Leading European regional airlines Ryanair has welcomed the European Commission report as well as EU’s decision to invoke national enforcement procedures to ensure that the websites comply with EU consumer legislation. Ryanair has been engaged in several legal cases across Europe against ‘screenscraper’ websites such as Opodo and eDreams to ensure that Ryanair has appropriate contact details to communicate with its customers.

Ryanair’s Chief Marketing Officer, Kenny Jacobs, commented, ‘The Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vera Jourova, herself said that if reviews on comparison websites are biased or prices are not transparent, then these websites are misleading consumers. It’s patently obvious that consumers across Europe are being misled and overcharged by some of these websites. We welcome this report, which exposes these anti-consumer practices and we hope its findings will lead to greater protection for consumers. Our advice to customers is simple: book directly on the Ryanair.com website to avoid being misled or overcharged.’

British Airways allows customers to reserve flights for £5

British Airways is offering customers looking for the best airline deals to hold their flight for up to 72 hours for as low as GBP5 through ba.com.

The facility offers customers the time to ensure that they get the best fares and are content with their flight choices before paying for them. If within 72 hours customers want to pay for their flights, the hold deposit is refunded and the ticket can be bought.

Drew Crawley, British Airways’ chief commercial officer, said: ‘There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a great flight price but not being able to book it straight away, either because you may need to get the time off work or check it’s ok with family or friends – then coming back and finding there are no seats left or the price has changed.

‘Now customers can see the price, hold their seats and be sure that’s all they’ll pay, up to three days later.

‘Feedback from customers means we are confident that this reassurance will prove very popular and give them the time to book the flights they want and give certainty they have a great deal.’

The hold fees for the UK and Europe are £5 and EUR5 respectively for short-haul flights and £10, $10 (for those booked in the US) and EUR10 for long-haul flights. For all other currencies, the hold fee is converted from the pound sterling figure.

A joint project between British Airways and Iberia, both owned by IAG, the new hold option applies to reservations for all flights operated by British Airways, including code-sharing flights, Iberia, Iberia Express, and Air Nostrum, including any combinations of flights of British Airways and Iberia, if they are on the same ticket.

Only one person’s name is needed to hold the flights. The names of all passengers can be added within 72 hours of the booking being held.

Under the facility, seats can be held up to 21 days before departure, as according to the airlines prices will generally change most within 21 days of departure and hence would be most useful.

easyJet launches ‘lowest fare finder’, enhances flight tracking

UK-based airline easyJet has said that it will add two new features on its website, easyJet.com.

Starting from June, the airline’s lowest fare finder tool will allow customers to search for its lowest price fares quickly and easily within the month of travel. The move comes after the airline launched an Inclusive Fare for corporate passengers and travel bookers looking for one-step transactions last year.

easyJet has also enhanced its Flight Tracker tool via a partnership with website Flightradar24. This will enable passengers as well as friends and relatives to see real time plane movements and progress on a map.

Peter Duffy, easyJet’s Group Commercial Director (Customer, Product & Marketing), said: ‘Our new lowest fare finder will help customers see our range of great value fares in an easy to use graphical format and is another example of how we’re making travel easier.

‘Our passengers like to have as much information as possible at their fingertips and we are confident that being able to track your plane in real time, coupled with improvements to our Flight Tracker tool will prove popular with our passengers.’

In addition to up-to-the-minute flight times, the airline connects its Operations Control Centre at Luton directly with customers through updates appearing in real time on a customer’s device. Flight Tracker is accessible from easyJet.com, the mobile website, as well as its iOS & Android apps.

The airline has also recently launched push notifications enabling customers with iOS devices to receive automated messages on updates about their flights at key stages.

Since its launch in December, over 8.6m million people have downloaded the easyJet app. easyJet.com is the third most searched for airline website globally and has almost 400 million visits per year, the airline said.

easyJet carried 12m business travellers in the 12 months to the end of March 2014 – the first time the airline has reached that milestone.