Skift Take

Truth in advertising hasn't been a hallmark of hotel rates offered online. The issue is finally getting more attention, but the problem is omnipresent.

Expedia Group told Google that the bait and switch tactics that some online travel agencies deploy in Google’s price comparison feature, Google Hotels, is “screwed up” and Google made some satisfactory changes.

That’s according to Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern, who discussed the issue with Skift last week, and mentioned it at the company’s partner conference in Seattle, as well.

Expedia spends billions of dollars every year advertising its listings on Google.com, travel.google.com, and Google-owned Youtube, all of which are important travel advertising vehicles.

“We went to them (Google) as a big customer, and said, ‘Your marketplace is screwed up, and we spend a lot of money in it. And if you want us to keep spending a lot of money in it, you’ve got to make it fair. You don’t need to advantage us. Just take out people that are misleading customers, and we’re good with that. We’re not asking for special treatment.'” 

Kern said Google used its own tech to make improvements, and they did a fairly good job.

Google doesn’t see any alleged discussions between the two companies in the same way that Kern did.

A Google spokesperson said it wouldn’t be accurate to say that discussions with one individual customer spurred price accuracy improvements.

“We have always worked hard to ensure that people can see accurate prices when they look for hotels on Google,” the company said in a statement. “Over the years, we’ve incorporated user feedback to continuously improve the systems that make this possible.”

Best Hotels Lists a Lower Rate, Misleadingly

Even this week, the issue persisted.

For example, on its initial listing in Google’s price comparison feature, Google Hotels, Expedia on Sunday listed a superior room at the Eurostars Grand Marina in Barcelona for a May 30-31 stay for $216. When you click through to book it the total price would be $232 if you prepay for the room, and $245 if you pay at the property.

However, Best Hotels on Sunday listed the same property and bed type for a May 30-31 stay on Google at a lower price than Expedia did, $183 for Best Hotels versus $216 for Expedia. Despite Best Hotels’ enticing $183 rate, it turned out that Best Hotels’ total price for that room was actually higher than Expedia’s. The Best Hotels rate was $236 if you prepay versus $232 for Expedia, and $251 if you pay at the hotel versus $245 with Expedia.

So Google allowed Best Hotels to lure travelers with a lower rate than Expedia offered for the Eurostars Grand Marina although Expedia was the one to actually offer lower total rates.

Expedia Took Its Concerns to Google

These sorts of misleading pricing practices take place all too often on Google, and on other price comparison, or metasearch sites, as well. Skift didn’t have to look a long time to find such an example; it surfaced in the second listing we examined.

“So we went to them (Google) and basically said, ‘Look, your stated position is your search is designed to improve the customer experience. But you are allowing all these bait and switch players (to be on Google). And when you click through, the customer actually gets a worse outcome,” Kern said.

Kern wasn’t commenting on the Best Hotels example, which Skift found this week. He was talking about the issue in general terms.

“Consumers get lost in that bait and switch,” Kern said. “That’s why it’s worked for a thousand years.”

Kern said Expedia told Google “‘you should clean that up.’ And I think they agreed with us. They went about creating some technological fixes. I think they did a reasonably good job in making it better, although not perfect.” 

Google claimed it always aims for the best user experience for people trying to obtain travel information, and that Google acts on feedback from both partners and travelers.

Here’s Google’s price accuracy policy. Among those policies, Google levies suspensions for travel companies that engage in deceptive practices.

Expedia has its own technology, which several large hotel chains are using, to ensure that online travel agencies and others aren’t offering hotel rates, such as wholesale prices for a stay, that they aren’t authorized to sell.

 

 

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Photo credit: Expedia Group's Peter Kern spoke at its Seattle headquarters on May 9 to partners at the company's annual Explore conference. Source: Expedia Group

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