Holidaymakers should avoid booking sites and go direct, survey says

Which? warns about dodgy refund policies and unwelcome admin fees

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed a lot of issues around booking sites, Which? says. Photograph: iStock

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed a lot of issues around booking sites, Which? says. Photograph: iStock

 

Holidaymakers are usually better off avoiding booking sites when arranging a holiday and booking direct with a travel provider instead, according to Which?’s latest travel booking sites survey which was published on Saturday morning.

The consumer champion surveyed nearly 5,000 members about their experiences with various travel booking sites, broken down into flight booking sites, accommodation booking sites, and travel comparison sites.

The results highlighted a raft of problems with using booking sites – usually presented as a hassle-free way to compare prices and get the best deal when booking a holiday – which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Respondents rated sites on a variety of criteria, including the functionality of the site, prices, and transparency of fees.

Flight booking sites fared particularly badly, with some companies proving impossible to contact regarding cancellations and refunds during lockdowns and some charging admin fees to process refunds that would have been free if sought directly from the airline.

Underwheling

Netflights received the highest customer score in this category, though still an underwhelming 65 per cent. It was the only flight booking site to score four stars for prices, and fewer than one in 10 customers reported a problem with the website.

The site only scored three stars for customer service however. When refunds were requested, Netflights said they would “normally” take 45 days to process – considerably longer than the seven-day window within which refunds should legally be processed by airlines for cancelled flights – and that the pandemic was making wait times even longer.

At the other end of the table for flight booking sites was Opodo, which Which? recently recommended passengers avoid booking with, after it left the Atol scheme. It scored a dismal 41 per cent, coming last in the survey for the second year running and scoring only two stars for customer service.

Comparison sites didn’t do much better. The clear frontrunner in this market was Skyscanner, with a customer score of 67 per cent. It was the only comparison site to receive a five-star rating in any of the categories, with customers giving it five stars for the site’s functionality. Meanwhile, Travelocity ranked at the bottom of the table, with a customer score of 43 per cent, and only managing to achieve two stars in every category.

Accommodation booking sites were rated slightly more favourably. This was the only category where some booking sites managed to receive a customer score of more than 70 per cent, with most accommodation booking sites managing to score four stars in at least one category.

Airbnb, with a customer score of 75 per cent, was the only booking site to impress customers and the consumer champion enough to receive Which? Recommended Provider status.

Five stars

Despite the huge number of cancellations Airbnb dealt with during the Covid-19 crisis it was still given five stars for customer service, and customers also gave it five stars for its prices, its free cancellation filter and transparent and upfront refund policies.

Lastminute. com propped up the bottom of the table in this category scoring just 55 per cent and only mustering three stars across every category. It also received a paltry 46 per cent when it was assessed as a flight-booking site.

“Booking sites have been seen as a hassle-free way to find the best deal on travel or accommodation when booking a holiday, but our survey highlights serious problems, from dodgy refund policies and unwelcome admin fees, to non-existent customer service,” Which Travel’s editor Rory Boland said.

“This year has shown us that nothing can be guaranteed when it comes to booking a holiday, so it’s more important than ever to ensure the company you’re booking with can be trusted with your money.”

“With a couple of notable exceptions, booking sites have let their customers down on this front, so the best way to ensure your money is in safe hands is to book a package, hotel or flight directly, and only with a reputable provider.”

Responding to the survey and Opodo spokeswoman said the number of responses to the Which? survey from its customers was very limited. She said the small sample size of 93 of its customers was “not reflective of the 17 million customers that we have worldwide. We have refunded over one million tickets and 100 per cent of package holidays.”