Open Letter to the U.K. Bargain Hunter

Dear Sir / Madam,

Over the last few years we have all stood on the sidelines as stories have emerged about big corporations fiddling the system to their advantage and to our cost. Well, now is your chance to speak out.

Three years ago the Office of Fair Trading (O.F.T.)  started investigating Skoosh’s complaint that consumers were being precluded by the biggest online travel agents from booking hotel deals.  To address these issues the O.F.T. put out a public consultation document last Friday asking all of us to comment on their new proposals for making access to hotel deals easier. We believe that the proposal will actually make it harder for you to find a hotel deal.

Below we have summarized the main points in the proposal and we have also listed some of the evidence of perceived wrongdoing we sent to the O.F.T. , including threats of violence and intimidation against us.

The O.F.T. has posted its proposal here. Unfortunately it is a 40-page document but much of the important information is near the beginning. The address to email your thoughts is hotelonlinebooking@oft.gsi.gov.uk or you can add a comment to this blog.

Best wishes and safe (affordable) travels,

Dorian

 

A summary of the O.F.T.’s proposal

– Current Status (Hobson’s Choice)

Booking.com, Expedia and Intercontinental Hotels (the three defendants) have signed agreements not to compete with each-other. So it doesn’t matter which one you book through you’ll see exactly the same price. They’ve also enforced this agreement across the whole industry so even if you book a room through us or another company it will still be the same price.

Currently, one way around this is to book through members-only sites where the prices are hidden until you enter an email address and a password.

– New Proposal  (Catch 22)

Under the new proposal you can still book a deal on a members-only site but only if you have previously made a booking through the site (the catch) which gives you better rates. Email and password or Facebook logins will no longer suffice as the discount website has to specifically invite the customer to access its discounted hotels.

 

The Evidence

This selection of evidence was submitted by Skoosh to the O.F.T.  over a period of 3 years.

Mr. Happy (Explicit lyrics) – Apr 2010

Ahead of our making a complaint we received this call from an irate hotelier clearly under pressure from Booking.com to get his hotel removed from Skoosh or risk being delisted on Booking.com

Kenzi Menara Palace (Aug 2010)

One of a vast number of hotels hassled by Booking.com to remove its property from the Skoosh website.

Kayak Termination (Oct 2010)

Less than a month after the O.F.T. announced it was formally investigating Skoosh’s complaint our biggest commercial partner, the price comparison site Kayak, cut its ties with Skoosh.

Rate Parity Associate Booking.com (March 2011)

Evidence that Booking.com specifically employs people to police the internet. The practice still goes on today.

Marmara Hotel Budapest (July 2012)

Booking.com emails the hotel to notify them that Skoosh is selling below their (Booking.com’s) price. Booking.com recommend that the hotel makes a [fake] reservation on the Skoosh website to find out who Skoosh is buying from.

Best Western Sheldon Park (July 2012)

Despite Expedia’s application for leniency with the O.F.T. Skoosh provided evidence that Expedia was still hassling hotels with rate parity challenges across the water in Ireland.

Class Action against the hotel industry (Aug 2012)

The action claims Expedia and Booking.com among others “conspired” with hotel chains to create a scheme that would “fix the retail price for room reservations” and therefore impact competition in the marketplace for other intermediaries.

Rate Parity Dilemma (Sep 2012)

The industry speaks out. Swiss hotel school says that rate parity is now the biggest dilemma facing hoteliers.

Booking.com Reveal their true face (Oct 2012)

A report by an industry commentator (unconnected to Skoosh) explaining the predatory nature of Booking.com.

Holiday Inn Reading (Nov 2012)

The hotel tells Skoosh that they have been fined by their franchisor, I.H.G., for allowing discounted rates to be made available to the public.

Scandinaviation Hotels break off from Expedia (Dec 2012)

Some signs of progress. We hoped this would demonstrate to the O.F.T. just how widespread this price-fixing practice extends.

Swiss Competition Office (Dec 2012)

The case widens further. Switzerland’s Competition Commission stated it suspects that Expedia’s and Booking.com’s best-rate guarantees — Bestpreisgarantien — with hotels, could “constitute illegal restraints.”

Objection to Expedia’s purchase of prices comparison site Trivago (Jan 2013)

Skoosh voiced its concerned that were Expedia allowed to buy a price comparison site it would further shore up its dominant market position. The acquisition went through.

Objection to Priceline’s Acquisition of Kayak (March 2013)

Skoosh objects to Priceline (Booking.com’s parent company) buying Kayak, the only major price comparison site in the U.S. and one which is looking to move into Europe. The acquisition went through.

French Hotels take on Expedia and Booking.com (July 2013)

France’s biggest hotel employer’s union, UMIH, argues that the main online travel agents including Booking.com and Expedia are breaking French and European competition rules by forcing hotels to give them their lowest rates, and then barring them from offering discounted rates elsewhere, including on the hotels’ own websites.

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