Holidaymakers using travel booking sites face ‘serious problems’ over refund policies and hidden fees, a consumer group has claimed.
Which? said its survey of nearly 4,900 members indicated that customers are usually better off booking a package deal through a tour operator or going direct to an airline or accommodation provider.
Booking sites offer consumers the ability to compare prices for a vast array of travel options, but the poll suggests the coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase in problems using such services.
Which? has claimed that holidaymakers using travel booking sites face ‘serious problems’ over refund policies and hidden fees
Flight booking sites fared particularly badly in the research and Which? claimed some companies proved impossible to contact about cancellations and charged admin fees to process refunds.
Opodo was given the lowest overall score with 41 per cent. Its customer service was rated just two stars out of five.
Lastminute.com and Gotogate scored 46 per cent and 45 per cent respectively.
Even Netflights, which received the highest score for flight booking sites at 65 per cent, only got three stars for customer service.
Netflights said refunds ‘normally’ take 45 days to process but wait times are longer due to the pandemic. This is despite passengers being entitled to refunds within seven days under EU law.
Accommodation booking sites were rated more favourably by people responding to the survey.
Flight booking sites fared particularly badly in the Which? research. This table, from Which?, shows how Netflights was rated top, with Opodo bottom
Airbnb was ranked in first place, with five stars for both customer service and price contributing to an overall score of 75 per cent.
It was followed by Booking.com (71 per cent, second) and Vrbo (69 per cent, third), which was recently rebranded from HomeAway.
Lastminute.com propped up the accommodation booking table for the third year running, scoring 55 per cent and mustering just three stars across all categories.
When it came to comparison sites, the clear frontrunner 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 top marks for site 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.
When it came to accommodation booking sites, Airbnb was top, with Lastminute.com ranked bottom (table courtesy of Which?)
The clear frontrunner for comparison sites was Skyscanner, with a customer score of 67 per cent (table courtesy of Which?)
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: ‘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.
‘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.’
An Opodo spokesperson said: ‘While each and every one of our customers is important to us and we strive for 100 per cent customer satisfaction, the number of responses to the Which? survey from Opodo customers (93) is very limited. This small sample size is not reflective of the 17 million customers that we have worldwide.
Which? says its survey indicated that customers are usually better off booking a package deal through a tour operator or going direct to an airline or accommodation provider
‘Our priority this year has been to manage all the cancellations produced as a result of Covid. We have already refunded over one million tickets and 100 per cent of package holidays. All package holiday bookings made with Opodo are protected by the Spanish financial protection scheme, which is fully compliant with the standards of protection required by EU law and offers the same level of protection as Atol.
‘We appreciate the current travel environment is frustrating for our customers. Our teams across the business are working hard to alleviate this as much as possible. However, airlines continue to withhold refunds that belong to consumers. Carriers are responsible for authorising refund requests and actioning the transfer of funds.
‘We are unable to provide our customers with refunds until this step is completed by airlines, and their delays are contributing significantly to the amount of time our customers have to wait.’
In a statement, Lastminute.com followed Opodo’s line of defence for its poor showing in the ranking, blaming the survey’s sample size and difficulties thrown up by the pandemic.
We believe that this survey doesn’t reflect the extreme circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic and the complexity of the industry
It said in a statement: ‘Customer satisfaction is our highest priority, and we are always trying to improve our processes to provide best possible products and assistance to our customers. While we recognise the importance of Which? independent assessments in the interest of consumers, we would like to point out some important information that shine a light on the circumstances of the survey.
‘First of all, the survey has been carried out during the summer when the erratic decisions of the UK Government, with air corridors to top destinations such as Spain, France and Portugal opening and then slamming shut again within weeks without any notice, caused a massive disruption and confusion for many customers.
‘At the same time, we need to acknowledge that the travel ecosystem is extremely complex with many different players (suppliers, agents, B2B wholesale intermediaries, marketing channels like meta searches etc) acting with very diverse business models and this is not always reflected in the comparative tables produced by Which?
‘Only a very small number of consumers were included in the Which? survey (81 respondents for flights and 84 respondents for accommodation). If we consider millions of people that have travelled with us, the sample of this survey is far from representing the British holidaymakers. However, every piece of customer feedback is valuable and will be taken onboard to further improve our processes.
‘Considering those points, we believe that this survey doesn’t reflect the extreme circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic and the complexity of the industry, causing widespread disruption to travellers this year across the globe and does not capture the overall experience from our customers, across all our product offering.’
MailOnline Travel has contacted Gotogate and Travelocity for comment.