Consumer Council

Best price guaranteed? Complaints of online hotel bookings double as consumers miss fine print, watchdog says

Consumer Council figures show almost half of cases involve dubious extra charges, while some money-back offers have wide restrictions

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 August, 2016, 4:18pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 August, 2016, 10:59pm

The number of complaints against online hotel bookings doubled in the first seven months of this year, as the surge in over-charging cases coincided with the rise in popularity of the online platforms, according to the Consumer Council.

Between January to July, the watchdog received 111 complaint cases, a significant increase from the 50 cases reported within the same period last year.

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Among the complaints, 53 were related to dubious extra charges, up from 23 recorded a year ago.

Many of the disputes also involved a sales tactic known as “Best Price Guaranteed”, used by many online booking websites. Under this guarantee, if consumers find a lower priced option from other websites, they can claim a refund on the rate differences, or even compensation amounting to more than the price they paid.

Despite these promises, few consumers can actually get their money back, because there are terms and conditions that come with the contract, and users often fail to read the fine print.

The council’s chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said such best price guarantees “come with restrictions”.

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For example, the lower priced option must match the original one in all stipulated terms – down to bed type and payment arrangements. Any discrepancies will cause the claim to be rejected.

Other instances of restrictions on such guarantees included a requirement to pay in Hong Kong dollars, or that the lower priced option had to be from a website based in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, one other website took up to six months to process the refund.