YOU may have suspected this has been happening for a long time, and a new investigation out of the UK points to your gut feeling being right all along.
Travel agents have been accused of spying on travellers online, using details obtained from consumers’ computer history to charge them more for their holidays. These “cookies” can reveal their online preferences and show how many times they have visited a certain web page, allowing sites to bump up prices for those who view certain pages or view holiday spots multiple times.
It’s practices such as this which has led to the online travel industry being condemned in a report presented to the European Union Select Committee, which is part of the UK’s House of Lords parliament.
Along with rigged pricing, travel agents were accused of doctoring search options and faking reviews, the UK’s Telegraph reported.
They were also slammed for pressuring hotels who offered cheaper rates to competitors, with some even setting up “shell” sites which appear to be the hotel’s website but actually end up taking bookings from customers at a higher price.
“We heard of an array of worrying practices by websites that simply aren’t transparent enough and leave consumers vulnerable to exploitation — from fake reviews to personalised pricing, from baffling privacy agreements, to rigged displays of search results,” committee chairman Lord John Whitty said.
“Even though some of these price restrictions have been banned, we heard allegations that online travel agents had intimidated hotels for offering better deals to their competitors. Witnesses described a number of practices by online travel agents intended to mislead consumers.”
The report is currently being review by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority.
While the extent of the practice hasn’t been analysed in Australia yet, what can you do to avoid being tricked?
Try this advice by SmarterTraveler: “Some travel websites covertly install your computer with a cookie that keeps track of your shopping behaviour — and then jacks up the ticket cost once it knows you’re interested. Try clearing your cookies and searching again if you don’t think the price should have increased that much in a few hours.”