Competition watchdog launches probe into hotel comparison websites

The competition watchdog has launched an investigation into hotel comparison websites to make sure consumers are not being ripped off.

The probe will look at practices including pressure selling, the use of hidden charges to hike prices and claims about the discounts available.

SEE ALSO: Six of the best last-minute holiday booking websites

SEE ALSO: Family's warning to tourists after fake TripAdvisor booking

Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) chief executive Andrea Coscelli warned that the information on websites could be making it more difficult for travellers to make informed choices.

The CMA has written to firms across the sector requiring them to give information about their activities.

The investigation will examine tactics including:

:: How hotels are ranked in online searches, including whether results are influenced by the amount of commission a destination pays to the website.

:: Pressure selling, where websites can create a false impression of the number of rooms available or rush customers into making a decision.

:: Whether the discounts advertised for a hotel are accurate, for example comparing a higher weekend room rate with the weekday rate for which the customer has searched.

:: Hidden charges such as taxes or booking fees which may not be covered in the advertised price.

Mr Coscelli said the investigation would "see whether sites are breaking consumer law" and make sure they "help, not hinder" travellers.

He said: "Around 70% of people who shopped around for hotels last year used these sites and they should all be confident they have chosen the best accommodation for their needs and are getting a good deal.

"In today's increasingly busy world, sites like this offer real potential to help holiday-makers save time and money searching for their ideal get-away.

"To do this, sites need to give their customers information that is clear, accurate and presented in a way that enables people to choose the best deal for them.

"But we are concerned that this is not happening and that the information on sites may in fact be making it difficult for people to make the right choice."

10 PHOTOS
You know you've booked the wrong hotel when...
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You know you've booked the wrong hotel when...

Hen and stag dos are great when you're actually on them, but for innocent bystanders caught in the vortex, they can be a living nightmare. A guest at the Andalucia Plaza hotel in Marbella described on TripAdvisor 'drunk men, shouting, swearing and shameful behaviour. The security guard dragged one male away after he was waving his little friend around at the pool side cafe.' It's enough to put you off your chorizo boccadillo. Avoid.

Worse still, a hell-raiser like Charlie Sheen on the same floor could cause you a sleepless night. At a 2010 visit to the Plaza Hotel, he hit the headlines for going on a drink-and-drug fuelled rampage involving a porn star and a trashed hotel room... Nice.

For some of us (especially those of us escaping from our children), a night in a hotel is the only chance we get for a good night's sleep, so it's annoying enough to be disturbed by any noise, but when you're being kept awake by sounds of screaming and/or gunshots, it's definitely time for an early check-out. One hapless traveller staying in a US hotel was woken by the sound of voices screaming 'Open that exit! Open that exit!'. She gathered her things and fled, only to find a class of flight attendants practising emergency drills in the corridor.

Organised murder mystery weekends at country house hotels are one thing, but when you turn up at a remote hotel and the manager proudly tells you about the famous ghost that haunts the premises, you might want to pack your bags. Although, according to paranormal database.com (and we'll leave it to you to decide how reliable a source of information that is), there's a hotel in Amersham in Buckinghamshire where the ghost of an old maid will actually pack your bags for you...

Ah, the wonders of Photoshop... Many an innocent traveller has been lured into booking in to a stunning new hotel based on pictures that have conveniently erased all traces of the cranes and diggers which still surround it. One such guest recently stayed at the Ganjeli Plaza Hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan (of recent Eurovision fame) to find it 'still being built, complete with drilling at odd hours' and 'terrifying electrics'. Our top tip? Check out Google Earth to see how it really looks.

Obviously, we don't mean actual limbs (although this would, without doubt, be an indicator of a bad hotel), but when you can tell the previous guest's hair colour, nail length and type of contact lens from physical clues left in the room, leave. And don't get us started on hair. There are things that are meant to be hairy: cute dogs, Tom Jones' chest, Highland cows... and then there are things that just shouldn't. The bar of soap in your hotel bathroom is one of them.

I once stayed in a five star hotel in India to find a massive (small dog-sized) rat crouching behind my pillow. The fact that the complimentary fruit and chocolates had been nibbled by someone other than me should have been a warning. Eventually, housekeeping caught the gigantic rodent, but it didn't make for a great night's sleep.

It tells you a lot about a hotel's clientele when the establishment has obviously learnt by experience that anything not nailed down will be nicked. Like that they're probably more used to the environs of a prison cell than a hotel room. But even the best hotels are susceptible to the klepto customers - The Scotsman in Edinburgh reports clocks off the wall and coffee makers going walkabout...

Staying in the same hotel as both Rihanna and Justin Beiber (who recently stayed in the same hotel in Sydney) may sound like a pretty thrilling prospect if you're a teenage girl or boy, but for the average guest sharing a roof with a huge celebrity, it just means manic security, hassled staff, crowds of screaming press and pre-pubescents - and the certain knowledge that someone else has bagged the best rooms.

When you arrive and the leering receptionist asks you how many hours you'd like the room for, you can be pretty sure it's not the classiest hotel in the area.

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