Opodo and eDreams investigation: Which? Travel investigates Opodo and eDreams

Travel investigation

Opodo and eDreams have been appearing in flight search results for many years. But are their prices as good as they might first appear? Which? Travel investigates. 

Information as it appears in Which? Travel magazine - May 2016

Morecambe & Wise, Torvill & Dean, Ant & Dec – we Brits love a double act. We have discovered another big duo: ‘Opodo & eDreams’ is their name, and magic is their game. Prepare to be amazed as these illusionists lure you in with the promise of cheap flights. Once you’re hooked, they bamboozle you with a (payment) card trick that will catch out even the savviest of travellers, catapulting your flight price skywards. And the pièce de résistance? The disappearing act. They have your money and you need their help. Yet Opodo and eDreams’ customer services have all but vanished!

Want to know more about this troublesome twosome? The name Opodo will be familiar to many. Originally set up as a joint venture between nine airlines more than 15 years ago, it’s been popping up in flight searches ever since. Lesser-known company eDreams has been around just as long, but has earned a worse reputation, thanks to its dubious tactics. But in 2011, eDreams bought Opodo. Both brands are part of the larger eDreams Odigeo company. And many types of tricks performed by eDreams have been adopted by its protégé Opodo.

When Which? subscribers were asked to rate their experience of using nine well-known travel booking companies, 20% of eDreams customers and 12% of Opodo customers described their experience as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ – the lowest-rated companies in the survey.

That’s why we’re revealing the secrets of this particular magic circle as we expose Opodo and eDreams’ tricks and crafty illusions.

The secret service

The problem: Opodo and eDreams make you pay mysterious fees for unexplained services. 

The evidence: We’re accustomed to service charges on restaurant bills. It’s clear what you’re paying for, and hopefully justified.

However, Opodo and eDreams prefer to keep their service charges a secret. There’s no information throughout searching and booking as to what the charges cover. The only explanation we could find for this cost was buried deep in the websites’ terms and conditions. Here it says the charge covers ‘searching, comparing and assistance during the booking procedure’.

We’re still trying to fathom what ‘assistance’we received. And we are baffled as to what the ‘service’ element is, given that many similar flight-search and flight-booking websites don’t charge an additional service fee.

What’s more, the service charges for the different return flights we searched for ranged from £6.40 to £24.77. How can the cost of such a ‘service’ vary so much?

The card trick

The problem: Pick a card, any payment card – no matter which you choose, you’ll end up paying more than the lowest advertised price. 

The evidence: If you picked up a pair of shoes priced at £50, but were charged £65 because you wanted to pay by debit card, you’d be miffed. Yet that’s exactly what happens to Opodo and eDreams customers. If you pay with ordinary Amex, Maestro, Mastercard or Visa debit or credit, you’ll pay more.

Only people paying with the little-known Entropay card (a prepaid virtual Visa card) receive the lowest fares advertised on their websites. They do this by always offering a‘discount’ to Entropay card users that just happens to be the same price as the service- charge fee. This doesn’t make the lowest advertised fare any lower. It just means that the service-charge fee that is ordinarily added would be offset. The result is that if, like 99.7% of the UK population, you don’t own this card, you pay more. Even if you are among the 0.3% of Brits who have the card, you still lose out. How? While the Entropay card itself is free, you will pay 3.95-4.95% to load money onto the card – eroding the savings you might have made.

We believe the choice of the obscure Entropay is simply a way for Opodo and eDreams to advertise lower fares few will get. When we asked eDreams Odigeo to confirm the nature of its commercial relationship with Entropay, it said: ‘Regarding Entropay, unfortunately we are unable to provide details which may be commercially sensitive.’ What’s more, Opodo and eDreams don’t tell you that you’ll be charged extra to add funds to the Entropay card – something the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) criticised Opodo for in December 2015. Yet months later, our research shows that Opodo is ignoring this ruling by continuing to omit important loading fees information. And eDreams does the same. We will be informing the ASA of this.

The premium ploy

The problem: Your airline might change your flight time or even the date, but the Opodo and eDreams websites stated that you would only be told about these changes if you paid a fee. 

The evidence: With most airlines and travel agents, if the flight time changes, they let you know for free, usually via email or text.

But Opodo and eDreams indicated – at time of writing – this was a paid-for service. What’s more, it appeared as if you could pay and still not be proactively told of changes. How’s that for hocus pocus?

With this dynamic duo, you would have selected your flights, but before you hit ‘book’, you would have been offered options that included notifications about potential changes to your flight:

1 . Pay nothing for the ‘basic’ service and get no notification. If your flight moved times or even dates, it stated that you wouldn’t be told about it.

2. Pay a few pounds – £1.99 to £3.99 in our test – for the ‘standard’ service and get not much more. Aside from a few extras, such as live weather updates, it still didn’t look like you would actively be informed about flight changes.

3. Pay quite a few pounds – from £4.49 to £6.99 in our test – for a ‘premium’ service and, finally, it stated that you would be sent an email or text if your flight date
or time changed.

For anyone who chose option A or B, if the airline changed the date or time of your flight – which isn’t terribly uncommon – it looked as if you could potentially log on to check in for your flight to find that it had already departed. But apparently, you would only have yourself to blame for not paying for their ‘premium’ service.

Which? win

We notified eDreams Odigeo that we would be reporting on this, and as we went to press, we are happy to report it has changed its eDreams and Opodo websites so that it is clear that even those opting for the basic service would be told of scheduled changes by email.

The phoney fee

The problem: But wait, there’s more hidden up their sleeves! Have a problem with your booking? With most companies, you can talk for free or at a low basic rate. But Opodo and eDreams stated that some customers would have to pay a premium to call.

The evidence: Let’s say you needed to contact Opodo or eDreams after booking your flights – with a query or a name change, for example. Unless you had paid for the ‘premium’ service, mentioned above, it appeared from both websites that some would be forced to pay to call a premium-rate number. Their websites said that those who opted for the ‘basic’ service would have to call a premium phone line, while those who paid for the ‘standard’ service would be charged 10p a minute. Only ‘premium’ service customers could seemingly call free of charge – but of course, it’s wasn’t actually free because you’d already paid a hefty price for this ‘extra’.

Charging customers to call a premium-rate number after booking is a clear breach of the Consumer Contracts Regulations, which state that customer helplines should be charged at basic rate once a booking has been made.

Which? Win

We informed eDreams Odigeo of this apparent breach. When we checked at time of press, both websites had changed to make it clear that customers opting for Basic
or Standard service options will be given access to a ‘local-rate’ phone number, in compliance with Consumer Contracts Regulations.

THE LEGAL POSITION

Which? Travel is investigating whether the way eDreams and Opodo presented the service options on their websites could have constituted a breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and if affected consumers could be entitled to ask for some of their money back. We put this allegation to eDreams Odigeo and at the time of press; it has not responded.

Smoke and mirrors

The problem: You think you’re booking with Ryanair, EasyJet or Monarch. But when you pay up, you discover your booking was with eDreams – and possibly even at a higher price than if you’d booked direct. How did that happen? Copycat websites, that’s how.

The evidence: eDreams has been paying for Google adverts that masquerade as some of the airlines’ own websites – much to the respective airlines’ chagrin. This tricks people into thinking they’re booking direct with the airline. Because Google prioritises paid-for website adverts, including these eDreams copycat sites, its links often appear at the top of internet searches. And the advert – with a web address that includes the name of the airline – is easy to confuse with the genuine website. For example, eDreams uses this URL: www.ryanair.edreams.co.uk. Many people click instantly on the top search result, likely assuming that link is the official one, particularly once they see the name ‘ryanair’ right at the start of the URL.

Things aren’t much clearer once you reach the copycat page. An aeroplane sporting the name of the airline spans the screen and a large airline logo jumps out from the page. It’s an illusion that David Copperfield would be proud of, and one that means unsuspecting customers could easily be duped into thinking it’s the real deal.

Which? reader Paul Richard told us how he felt his Ryanair flight booking was ‘hijacked’ by eDreams. He had no intention of booking with it when he started his online flight search, but inadvertently clicked through to the site, where he booked flights without realising he was booking with eDreams.

Frequent fliers can be caught out too, as Which? subscriber Penny Jones can testify. She has booked with Ryanair many times before, but unintentionally clicked through
to the eDreams website without realising it. It was only when she checked her bank statement that she noticed the payment to eDreams.

The Advertising Standards Authority ticked eDreams off about its misleading Google- sponsored Easyjet and Ryanair adverts in March this year. Some improvements have been made to the Google ad, but we don’t think they go far enough.

The airlines have had enough of eDreams’ antics, too. Ryanair has sued both Google Ireland and eDreams for damages and has taken successful action in Germany to prevent infringement of its intellectual property. EasyJet and Monarch have taken the issue to regulators, and Monarch has told us it is challenging websites like eDreams to stop them using its branding and mis-selling its flights.

Nonetheless, the eDreams ads and copycat websites still appear in Google searches.

The disappearing act

The problem: Now you see them, now you don’t. Opodo and eDreams are quick to take your money, but as soon as something goes wrong, hey presto, they effectively disappear. 

The evidence: Social media is awash with complaints about eDreams’ and Opodo’s customer-service team, from bills racked up from calling phone lines to customers waiting months to get a response to their queries.

You’ve had your fair share of problems,too. Opodo has given you the silent treatment after cancelling your flights, while eDreams has kept you on hold on its phone lines before cutting you off.

Which? reader Neil Kelly was unable to get a response from Opodo’s helpline for several weeks and David Daniels described his experience with eDreams’ customer services as ‘like pulling teeth’. It took three months for David to receive a refund from eDreams after it failed to book the hold luggage he’d paid for on his Ryanair flight.

CAA investigation

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is investigating Opodo and eDreams. We’ll be sharing our research and your experiences, feeding into the CAA’s investigation and helping it understand the scale of discontent among consumers.

Expert View

Expect the unexpected, so the saying goes. Never has a phrase been more apt than when dealing with Opodo and eDreams. From unexpectedly landing on a website to having unexpected charges on your booking, this duo really do like to surprise their customers at every turn. But we’ve had enough of the illusions. Opodo’s and eDreams’ poor practices leave frustrated customers in their wake, so we’re taking action. 

Opodo’s and eDreams’ response

We put our allegations to eDreams Odigeo. While it provided a lengthy response to our research, it also placed significant restrictions on how we could use its response. It eventually lifted some restrictions but not until after our official print deadline, so we didn’t have space to include it. If you want to read its response to our allegations, see which.co.uk/OpodoAndEdreams

If you'd like to read the Opodo and eDreams investigation in the May 2016 issue of Which? Travel magazine, subscribe to Which? Travel magazine or subscribe to both Which? online and Which? Travel magazine by calling 01992 822800.

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