Hundreds of hotel and flight booking comparison websites have come under fire for misleading customers about prices.
Of the 352 websites across the EU screened last year, the prices on two thirds of sites, or 235, were found to be unreliable, according to a report released today by the European consumer protection body.
An unreliable price could mean additional items were added later on in the booking process or promotional prices didn't correspond with services, said the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC).
Complaints on booking comparison websites were among the most frequent of any consumer category, according to the European Consumer Centres.
Vera Jourova, the group's 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 customers.
"Consumers deserve the same protection online as offline."
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The report's key findings were:
- In a third of cases (32.1 per cent), the price first shown is not the same as the final price
- In one fifth of cases (20.7 per cent), promotional offers were not really available
- In almost one third of cases (30.1 per cent), the total price or the way it was calculated was not clear
- In one in four cases (25.9 per cent), websites did not specify that statements about scarcity ("only two left", "only available today") only applied to their own websites
Authorities will now require the websites concerned to bring their practices in line with EU consumer legislation, which requires them to be fully transparent about prices and present their offers in a clear way at an early stage of the booking process.