Booking a hotel room online, particularly last-minute, can be a nerve shredding experience.
Potential guests find themselves bombarded with messages pressuring them into booking a room.
However, the UK's competition watchdog the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) may soon ban the practice of using their websites to give a false sense of urgency to guests booking online.
The practice in which popular websites, such as Expedia, Booking.com and Hotels.com, serve pop-up windows and other messages with "one room left at this price" and "booked four times in the last 24 hours" are found to be misleading potential guests on their popularity.
Heaven forbid you are trying to make a measured decision on a hotel listing with "twelve other people are viewing this booking" written at the top of the page.
However, the international bookings websites have agreed to stop taking part in the practices, which the CMA have deemed "unacceptable."
"Six websites have already given firm undertakings not to engage in these practices. They are some of the largest hotel booking sites. The CMA will now do whatever it can to ensure that the rest of the sector meets the same standards," read the watchdog's report.
The websites have been handed a deadline of September 1 to make changes to their booking systems or face action.
Along with orders to cut down on misleading messaging the decision has come with a raft of other measures to make online hotel listing fairer to consumers.
Hotel rankings will have to be explained to site visitors and the final amount payable must be clear – instead of leaving out cleaning fees, GST or other costs from prices quoted.
During a simple search for hotels in Auckland on Expedia.co.nz, the top result urged guests to "secure" their booking as soon as possible. Once on the listing's booking page, pop-up windows appeared showing the number of other people supposedly viewing the property "right now".
These incessant "pressure tactics" and accompanying exclamation marks are enough to bring on a bout of anxiety.
Similar systems were also found in place on websites nz.hotels.com and www.booking.com.
Lastly, the quoted price of $430 rose to almost $500 after 15 per cent of additional taxes and non negotiable costs. The property's own website listed the same room for $30 cheaper - without any pop-ups nudging guests towards bookings.
The UK consumer advocate Which? submitted its own findings on online hotel booking practices, which were consideration in the CMA report.
These findings included:
• A room in The Row NYC was listed by a hotel comparison website at $320 per night. Guests confirming the booking found the actual price to be $400 – 27 per cent in unadvertised additional fees and taxes.
• An Expedia listing for a room in the Hotel Alsisar, Jaipur reported a discounted price from $208 to $70. This seemed like a great deal, until the hotel's own website showed a base rate for the same room to be $66.
• Hotel.com were found to have sent a deal for a luxury London stay at the 45 Park Lane hotel for $740 – however the cheapest quote available via the website for any date was $933.
It is not clear that this ruling by the UK Competition Markets Authority will have any effect on these websites' operations outside of the EU.