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Online booking fees in ACCC spotlight

The consumer watchdog recently audited the websites and apps of more than 130 traders offering online bookings for services such as flights, accommodation, cruises, trains, vehicle hire, car parking and entertainment ticketing.

The aim of the sweep was to find out if any of the traders were engaging misleading or deceptive conduct via drip pricing – surprising consumers with extra fees or charges on top of the advertised price.

“Results from the ACCC’s sweep last month indicate an improvement in the online booking processes among the travel, tourism and leisure sectors,” said ACCC deputy chair, Delia Rickard.

The sweep identified 15 traders who will be receiving a call from the ACCC because fees and charges were not adequately disclosed as early as possible in their booking processes.

“These fees and charges included compulsory booking fees or credit card surcharges which were not disclosed until the payment stage,” Rickard said.

“Businesses should be mindful of the overall impression created by booking processes, ensuring there is adequate and early disclosure of both compulsory and non-compulsory fees. This is particularly important as more businesses move towards mobile platforms, given mobile websites and apps are constrained in the amount of information that can be clearly conveyed to readers.”

The ACCC has made regulating online marketplaces a priority. On November 17, the Federal Court found Jetstar and Virgin Australia Airlines had engaged in misleading drip pricing practices concerning specific advertised airfares. 

On October 13, the ACCC accepted court enforceable undertakings from Airbnb Ireland (Airbnb) and Vacaciones eDreams, SL (eDreams) following concerns that the companies engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and made misleading representations by failing to adequately disclose to consumers in Australia particular mandatory fees on key pages of one or more of their online booking platforms.

Ticketek and Ticketmaster now include unavoidable fees earlier in the online booking process after the ACCC raised concerns over drip pricing in late 2014.  

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