Hotel booking websites are being accused of failing to show the full cost of a stay upfront in their search results.
The lack of transparency is leaving travellers struggling to compare prices and find the cheapest overall deal, according to an investigation by MoneySavingExpert.com.
Five of nine brokers and all four comparison sites it checked did not always show the final cost in the initial search results, once taxes and resort fees are factored in.
Customers only discover the true total when they click through – and even then it sometimes requires multiple clicks.
In one example, it found that over a six-day stay a guest could end up paying £275 more than shown on the search results page.
When checking the cost of rooms in Amsterdam, Athens, Las Vegas, Orlando and Rome over a variety of dates between August tnis year and March 2019, the investigation found:
· The five brokers that did not always show the full cost upfront were Agoda, Getaroom, Netflights, Travel Republic and Zenhotels.
· All four comparison sites checked – Kayak, Skyscanner, TravelSupermarket and Trivago – failed to include taxes or resort fees in their cheapest listing on the initial search page on at least one occasion.
In some cases when a comparison site listed a number of brokers for a single hotel, some of the prices would include taxes and resort fees and others would not, creating a potentially unfair comparison.
The competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), is looking at whether some charges are being made clear to customers as part of an ongoing probe into hotel booking websites.
The CMA has now asked MSE to submit these results to inform its work.
Several sites have now said they are looking at ways to improve the way they present prices, and one – Kayak – said it had already fixed the issue.
MoneySavingExpert.com deputy editor Guy Anker said: “Our investigation shows that ridiculously you simply can’t always trust the first figure you’re shown.
“It’s confusing for customers and makes doing a meaningful price comparison very hard. And as a result, many travellers may end up paying much more than they need to because they struggle to find the cheapest deal.
“Long-term, the solution’s simple. The price you’re first shown must be the total, including extra fees – even fees that have to be paid at the hotel. If that’s not happening, the competition watchdog should act to make sure that it does.
“This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use these hotel brokers and comparison sites when booking a room – they may still work out cheapest overall, and can narrow down the search for you. But it’s worth an extra click to be sure.”