The ways hotel booking sites could mislead you

Hidden charges, overseas fees and pressure tactics could all make your hotel stay more expensive.



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I’ve been using sites such as Booking. com and Expedia for years to find hotel rooms, and I’ve made some decent savings as a result.

But there are the odd little things on these and similar sites which have caught me out. And I’m not alone. The government’s Competitions & Markets Authority (CMA) has completed an investigation into misleading prices and results on sites like these. As a result six of the largest booking websites – Booking. com, Expedia, Trivago, Hotels. com, eBookers and Agoda have agreed to stop these practices.

But they don’t have to implement these until September 2019, so until then you could still get caught out. Plus there are many other booking sites who are yet to agree to these voluntary principles.

So here are a few things I’ve noticed some hotel booking sites do that could end up costing you more money.

Are hotel booking sites misleading you? What you need to watch out for

Hiding extra charges

Often the price you see displayed isn’t the total cost.

In the UK our tax (for hotels it’s VAT) is included, but it’s often added as extra overseas. I’ve just been to the USA and each State there will have a hotel tax, while many cities will have a city tax on top.

What’s frustrating is some sites will include this in the total price, while others will hide it elsewhere on the page. Confusingly, some sites do both depending on where you’ve clicked from.

I had this with Booking. com recently. Direct to the site prices were without tax, yet via comparison site Kayak (where I’d selected “all in” prices), the fees were included.

You might also find you have to pay “resort fees”, while Wi-fi, breakfast, parking are all often extra too.

All this information could be much, much clearer.

Charging you in the local currency

Longtime readers will know I’m well prepared to avoid currency conversion fees. But even with my selection of fee-free cards I’ve still managed to get caught out a couple of times.

There are a number of ways this can happen:

  • Though many hotels with free cancellation won’t charge you at the time of booking, some do – and it’s not always clear what currency you’ll be paying in. Booking. com for example makes the pound price most prominent.  Yet when I booked for Las Vegas recently, on the final page, in smaller letters further down that it’s easy to miss, it says you’ll pay in the properties currency. It could be, and should be so much clearer.
  • One booking I made with Expedia was listed as pounds, until I selected to pay with Amex. Then a small extra line appeared on the screen offering me the choice to pay in dollars or pounds. It wasn’t obvious that the extra option appeared, and the dollars option was pre-selected. It’s very easy to miss things like this and just click “Buy Now”. Again, it should be clearer – and more consistent!

expedia currency

  • The sites might ask for a card to hold the room, though at the same time making a big thing of “you won’t be charged for making this booking”. However if you don’t provide a different card when you check-out, it’s the first the card that will be charged – and that might come with heavy currency conversion fees. And even if you offer a different card at check-in, make sure that’s the one used. I found out too late that a hotel used the one from Booking. com rather than the one I gave them, costing me an extra £12.
  • Also, remember that any price for an overseas hotel quoted in pounds can go up and down with the exchange rates if you haven’t prepaid.

Sadly these variations seem down to the hotel you choose, rather than the booking site – meaning it’s going to be different every time you book, even if you use the same website for all your bookings. So you need to vigilant here.

Inflating discounts

Often when I search for hotels, it’s easy to be tempted by the biggest discount – and potentially pay more than I intended to get a “nicer” room. That sometimes works out and you get a real bargain.

But hotels notoriously have very fluid pricing. Weekends and peak seasons will generally cost a lot more than less popular times. So the 60% discount you’re seeing for a Tuesday might be the standard midweek price. And if you’re influenced by discount rather than price, you could get easily spend more than you need to.

Not putting the best deals at the top

The hotels you see at the top of a search result are likely there because the hotel has paid to be or offers a higher commission! So always change the order of the results to see all the options.

I tend to filter by review scores (usually 7 out of 10 and above), then order by price from low to high.

Pressuring you to book

These sites all use similar tricks: “only two rooms left!”, “This hotel has been booked 17 times today”, “77 people are looking at your location right now”.

It’s all there to push you to book now and not search elsewhere. But a lot of the time, people are looking at different dates to you. So take this with a pinch of salt.

If you are worried about rooms selling out then look for free cancellation. This way you’re protected if your plans change.

How to get an extra discount when using hotel booking websites

Despite all the issues above, I’ll still make most of my bookings via one of these websites – usually or Expedia. Though price and the ability to cancel for free are big factors, I’m also able to knock the price down further by going via cashback sites.

The rates you get from TopCashback and Quidco vary from week to week, but it’s often possible to get 4% back at Booking. com and as much as 10% back from Expedia. A word of warning – as with any cashback purchase you might not get the money. It’s rare this happens, but sometimes sales don’t track, or they track at the wrong rate. So always make a note of when you clicked and the rate you are expecting so you can put in a claim.

> Not signed up to Topcashback or Quidco? Get a new member bonus of up to £16 here!

Want more hotel booking tips? Read my article below.

My tricks to save money on flights

One thought on “The ways hotel booking sites could mislead you

  1. I came across another sneaky trick. I checked the price for three nights at a certain hotel in London with ebookers. Then I remembered that if I went through topcashback I could get a decent cashback. When I did the same check via topcashback, I was quoted a higher price, which roughly cancelled out the cashback. However when I continued with the earlier, lower price, I still got the cashback. The moral? If you want to get the ebookers cashback without a price hike, get a price without involving ebookers. Then follow the topcashback link to ebookers, but do anything further with this likn; instead continue with the quote you were given.


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