The Italian Antitrust Office has fined three leading online travel agencies for unfair commercial practices. The action is in part due to pressure from the Italian Association of travel agents (Fiavet).
The total amount of fines runs to Euro 415,000 and has hit the following companies:
The Office investigators identified issues such as:
- Misleading promotions in home page and advertising, with actual prices being much higher by the end of the booking process (all three OTAs).
- Opaque booking and payment process, in particular for money paid upfront for unconfirmed bookings and not immediately refunded (Expedia and eDreams).
- Opaque insurance coverage description and unfair pre-selection of insurance during checkout (Opodo. This has since been modified).
- Opaque information about the actual legal entity, which creates obstacles for customer complaint (Expedia).
- Inappropriate complaint management (Expedia and eDreams).
- Unfair high fees for calling the unique customer service number (eDreams).
A row between Fiavet and Expedia started in 2010 when the OTA's tagline "Flight deals, no agency fees", was considered offensive and unfair towards travel agents. Expedia then changed the tagline to "Flight deals, no booking fees".
Opodo Italy has declared having cooperated fully with the Office, and that the relative lower fine indicates their marginal responsibility.
All in all, if the penalties are not going to have any significant impact on the bottom lines of any of these players, the Antitrust Office has passed a clear message with regards to meeting fair practices in line with consumer protection regulations.