Ryanair targets Nasdaq-listed travel site Expedia in US legal action

Airline says Expedia ‘screen scrapes’ flights from its site to sell on to own customers

Ryanair says Expedia’s “spider” programme “mimics an actual customer” as its allegedly scrapes its site for flights. Photograph: Eric Gaillard

Ryanair says Expedia’s “spider” programme “mimics an actual customer” as its allegedly scrapes its site for flights. Photograph: Eric Gaillard

 

Ryanair is taking legal action in the US against Expedia Inc, one of the largest online travel agents in the world, for allegedly “screen scraping” fares illegally from Ryanair’s website and selling them on at a mark-up.

The airline has launched similar legal actions against a plethora of smaller operators in European courts in recent years. The action it filed this week in Seattle against industry giant Expedia, however, marks the first time Ryanair has taken its crusade against screenscrapers to the US.

Ryanair launched its case on Wednesday in the US district court in the state of Washington targeting Expedia which, in addition to Expedia.com, also owns massive global travel sites including Travelocity, Hotels.com and Trivago.

Expedia is, like Ryanair, listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange with revenues of about $8.7 billion (€7.3 billion) – 12 per cent higher than Ryanair’s income – and a market value of $18.6 billion, compared to Ryanair’s $29 billion. Expedia is second only to US company Priceline in the online travel business.

Ryanair’s dispute with Expedia goes back to 2016. According to documents filed with the court in Seattle, Thomas McNamara, Ryanair’s head of legal, began sending letters of complaint to senior Expedia executives in the UK and the US in August of that year.

By September and October, the matter had been escalated into the hands of Dublin commercial law firm Philip Lee, which wrote several letters to Expedia’s legal department in Washington state, where it is headquartered.

‘Spider’ programme

According to records in the High Court in Dublin, Ryanair then launched a legal action against Expedia here in February this year, although that case appears not to have progressed so far and no papers have been filed. The airline this week, however, laid out the basis of its case in the Seattle proceedings.

According to Ryanair’s complaint, third-party websites are not permitted to sell on flights from Ryanair’s website according to its terms of use.

The airline accuses Expedia of using an automated bot or “spider” programme to “scrape” fares from Ryanair’s site, and sell them on to users of Expedia’s travel sites who never visit Ryanair’s site at all.

It says Expedia’s “spider” programme “mimics an actual customer” and “on occasion charges customers who purchase Ryanair tickets a fee beyond the true cost of the Ryanair flight”.

Expedia’s flights are usually non-transferable and non-refundable, which Ryanair says is a further breach of its site, where flights and names can be changed, albeit for a fee. Ryanair also claims that automated spider bots help to “overwhelm” its website with their queries.

‘Cease and desist’

About nine weeks ago, Ryanair sent Expedia a final “cease and desist” letter to Dab Zariski, Expedia’s head of legal, but says it received no reply. It is seeking unspecified damages against the US company, as well as an injunction preventing it from screenscraping under the US’s Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Both Ryanair and Expedia declined to comment on the legal action.

Last year, Ryanair won a screenscraping case in a regional German court against travel site eDreams. In October this year, it settled a Dublin lawsuit against eDreams and Google, which displayed ads for eDreams.

It has also taken cases in the UK and Holland, and some of its legal actions have been referred to European courts. It also won a Supreme Court case here in which it sought permission to sue European sites in Ireland.

x-ref Ryanair inside

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