The area of “best price guaranteed” is not as straight-forward as many retailers and other sellers would like us to think. Choice looked at this a couple of years back (see here) and identified a number of issues. I’ve had issues with it, too (at Dan Murphy).
On the other side of the fence, sellers try to protect their position by imposing conditions on their suppliers. In the accommodation arena, Booking.com (an “on line agent” or “OLA”) is a case in point, insisting (as I understand it) on “parity clauses”. So it’s good to see that the ACCC has taken an interest in this. As the ACCC says, “Parity clauses generally require accommodation providers to offer best price and availability to online travel sites. This guarantees the online travel site the accommodation provider’s lowest rate and prevents competitors and consumers from negotiating better deals directly with the provider.”
The upshot of the ACCC’s interest is that that Expedia/Wotif and Booking.com have agreed to remove clauses in their agreements with accommodation providers that require accommodation providers to –
- offer room rates that are equal to or lower than those offered on any other online travel agent
- offer room rates that are equal to or lower than those offered on an accommodation provider’s offline channels
- make all remaining room inventory available
- offer the same number and same type of rooms offered to any other online travel agent.
But look more carefully: the second point is limited to “offline channels”. So, a hotel can still be restricted from undercutting the OLAs on their own websites. Seems to me the ACCC could have taken a firmer line on this.
I read one commentary that suggested that, even where different rates are offered to different OLAs, the OLAs can insist that the packages are different. This doesn’t seem consistent with what the ACCC is saying, but could it be that their first dot-point doesn’t tell the whole story? If it is true, then once again, seems to me that the ACCC has been very “soft” – a view shared by the hotel industry.
No doubt the OLAs won’t need to re-phrase their “best price” language much. In fact the Expedia “Price match” provision when I checked was almost meaningless, and the Booking.com provision (click through here) was hedged with conditions.
Just the same, in my experience, it’s always worth checking prices for accommodation in a couple of ways before committing, including on the property’s own web-site if you have a “frequent guest” number and – often better still in Australia – by ringing them directly. Even if direct contact doesn’t result in a better price, we’ve often had a better room.