27 October 2016
Travel booking sites can throw up nasty surprises for consumers, a Hong Kong watchdog has warned. Photos: CNSA,,,
Travel booking sites can throw up nasty surprises for consumers, a Hong Kong watchdog has warned. Photos: CNSA,,,

Consumer watchdog warns about fare traps in travel booking sites

With the holiday season upon us, Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog has warned people to be careful when making bookings on travel websites and not fall prey to misleading sales tactics.

The Consumer Council pointed to traps laid out by some air-ticket booking sites where the final price may be quite different than the option that consumers first see.

The watchdog said it found that at one travel booking site a consumer was asked to pay nearly 30 percent more than the original price after receiving the confirmation email.

The site blamed a system error for the wrong figure given originally to the traveler.

The Council urged consumers to compare prices on different websites and evaluate the risks before purchasing air tickets, Ming Pao Daily reported.

The watchdog studied more than half a dozen travel websites, including CheapTickets, Zuji, Hutchgo and Ctrip.

It noted that four sites show search results in ascending order of prices. Some fares were marked as “the best deal”. However, the airfares shown do not include fuel surcharge, airport and government duties and other charges.

Consumers have to complete the entire booking process before knowing the exact final price.

In another problem, connecting flights are usually touted as being cheaper than direct flights as travelers will take a longer time to arrive at their destinations. But the taxes and surcharges at multiple airports could result in the final fare being costlier than a direct flight.

Meanwhile, some travel sites list “taxes and other charges” as a single item, leaving the consumer in the dark about how much administration fee is being levied by the websites.

The Council also noted that two websites show credit card surcharges only after the consumers enter their card information.

The watchdog warned that “drip pricing” is not uncommon among local travel booking sites, and that it is hard for consumers to tell the exact amount of total fare.

It urged travel booking sites to improve their practices in displaying the airfare information.

Meanwhile, consumers were advised to beware of pre-selected optional items.

It noted that Hutchgo, for instance, has pre-selected charges including travel insurance and pocket Wi-Fi set placed in the shopping basket. If consumers fail to un-tick the selection manually, they could end up paying for things they might not want.

In another problem cited by the Council, some travel sites have the final say on the price even after the transactions are settled.

In the terms and conditions at CheapTickets and Zuji, the websites reserve the right to make price and itinerary alterations anytime.

The consumer watchdog warned people not to be misled by travel booking sites, and reminded travelers that they could also consider buying tickets directly from the airlines’ websites.

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