Last May, 12 of us used Booking.com to rent a Greek villa for a fortnight in August. We paid the €4,435 cost in full and booked flights and hire cars. Recently Booking.com informed us that there had been a pricing error and the actual cost was €9,407. We were told that we must pay the difference or it would cancel the reservation. It is already re-advertising the villa for the dates we have booked. We feel that it is trying to take advantage of increasing demand for holidays at our expense.
Booking.com holds customers to strict terms and conditions when it comes to cancellations, but scuppers holidays itself without penalty. Last year, I reported on a family who arrived for their spa holiday in Cornwall to find the company had transferred their booking to the London suburb of Uxbridge. Your experience is similarly breathtaking in its audacity. The curt email from Booking.com arrived 11 months after your booking and gave you 24 hours to pay the extra. It stated that the villa owner wished to find “middle ground” and would reduce the new €9,400 price by €200. It added, graciously, that if you did not want to accept the offer it would cancel your booking “for free”. The company’s terms and conditions state that obvious errors, such as a €1 hotel suite, are not binding. If the €4,435 price was an “obvious error”, you’d expect the owner to have noticed last year. If it were not, you should have been able to rely on another clause in the terms and conditions which state that your payment constitutes “final settlement of the due and payable service”.
In the event, Booking.com cancelled and refunded your reservation while you were still discussing what to do. You and your family have now been left nearly €3,000 out of pocket after paying for alternative accommodation and rearranging flights and car hire.
I repeatedly asked Booking.com whether owners were required to sign cancellation terms so that customers could be confident that they would get what they paid for. It said evasively that it works “collaboratively” with owners who are responsible for pricing and availability and that it supports customers when errors occur. “We can see that in this instance it was an error on the part of the villa and are investigating why this occurred to make sure it does not happen again,” it said.
Scandalously, the story would have ended there if you hadn’t asked me to investigate. Only then did the company agree to refund the €2,930 costs of rearranging the holiday. Booking.com’s terms and conditions state that it handles all complaints internally and is not obliged to submit to alternative dispute resolution providers so, had it refused to compensate, your next step would have been a claim for your expenses via the small claims court.
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