Booking.com, one of the world's biggest holiday accommodation providers, now sells package holidays and flights provided by partner holiday companies. But snapshot pricing analysis from Which? Travel shows it can be more expensive than competitors.
When we compared holidays at the same four-star hotel, on the same dates, Booking.com was beaten on price by its biggest online rival, Expedia, on nine out of 12 occasions.
It performed even worse for price when we looked at flights. Skyscanner showed us cheaper fares for all 12 routes we checked. And on ten of the 12 routes, it was actually cheaper to book the flight direct with the airline.
The price difference between Booking.com and Expedia was significant for many holidays. A couple travelling to Nice, France for a week's stay at the four-star Okko hotel could save £154 by booking with Expedia instead of Booking.com.
Surprisingly, despite the fact that a search with Booking.com is 'powered by Lastminute', we also found that it seemed to be cheaper to book direct at Lastminute.com. Based on our snapshot search, the same two-night city break at the Conrad Hotel in Krakow cost £120 per person via Booking.com, but just £63pp if you went direct, because Lastminute.com had found cheaper flights.
Booking.com said this was due to 'AB testing' which can 'cause temporary fluctuations in price'. It said travellers 'can be confident that our prices are in line with Lastminute.com'. Lastminute confirmed that its holiday partners have access to the same flight inventory as themselves, but the availability of flights is dynamic and subject to changes at any time' meaning that a simple price comparison from one platform to another may not be the full story.
There were other problems with using Booking.com. On two occasions it automatically selected arrival airports that were more than 90 minutes' drive from your chosen hotel.
|Holiday (flights and 4-star hotel)||Booking.com price||Expedia price|
|Amsterdam - 2 night city break, Urban Lodge Hotel||£288||£267|
|Berlin - 2 night city break, Select Hotel Berlin||£290||£322|
|Krakow - 3 night city break, Conrad Hotel||£196||£195|
|Porto - 3 night city break, Mercure Porto Gaia||£278||£358|
|Algarve - 1 week holiday, Hotel Baia Grande||£1,726||£1,602|
|Costa del Sol - 1 week holiday, Hotel Plaza del Castillo||£961||£862|
|Crete - 1 week holiday, Olive Green Hotel||£1,448||£1,633|
Table notes: Cheapest holiday price in bold. Using Booking.com we selected popular destinations for peak booking periods using the cheapest 4-star hotel at each destination that was available with both Booking.com and Expedia, and the cheapest non-stop flight. We then compared the same hotel, on the same room/board basis, on the same dates with Expedia. Prices gathered 31 Jan to 3 Feb.
While Booking.com is now the UK's ninth largest ATOL holder, with a licence to carry 285,292 passengers on Atol-protected package holidays in 2022, it has chosen instead to partner with LastMinute.com to fulfil its package bookings.
LastMinute.com is the Atol holder and provider of any flight+hotel package currently purchased at Booking.com.
Booking.com told us 'While we don't sell packages, we are well aware of the relevant obligations that may apply to us as our offer continues to evolve.'
Atol protection is important because it stops you losing money or becoming stranded abroad if the travel company that you booked with goes bust before you travel or while you are on holiday.
For two years in a row LastMinute.com has finished bottom of a Which? members survey of both flight booking and accommodation booking sites.
Lastminute claims that the score does not provide the full picture of travel 'in the context of a pandemic'. In any case, Booking.com says that package holiday customers don't have to use LastMinute.com's customer support. It said 'Our customer service team is available 24/7 to support our customers no matter what sort of trip they book with us.
LastMinute.com also has a poor record on Covid refunds. It initially failed to refund customers with cancelled bookings within the required timeframe, leading to it being investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). And in January 2021, the regulator threatened LastMinute.com with legal action unless it repaid over £1million in outstanding refunds to customers whose holidays were cancelled due to the pandemic.
Last summer, Which? advised customers not to book package holidays with Lastminute.com because of its refund policies. It said it wouldn't refund customers affected by new travel restrictions (after they had booked) that meant they would have to quarantine when they arrived at their holiday destination.
LastMinute.com says that it had 'fulfilled its commitment to refund package holiday customers impacted by Covid', that it 'will continue to work with the CMA to ensure customers come first' and that it will now refund customers in this situation: If at the time of booking there were no restrictions in place for the destination and restrictions are added at a later stage, before travel, the customer would be entitled to a refund.' However, it did not commit to providing these customers with a 'full refund'. 'We would have to assess every case', it told us.
As the Atol holder, it will be Lastminute.com rather than Booking.com that is legally responsible for refunding customers if and when holidays are disrupted.
We checked four routes at three different times of year and compared the cheapest non-stop return flights that Booking.com found with both Skyscanner and direct with the airline. Booking.com didn't find the cheapest fare on any single occasion, and for ten of the 12 flights it was cheaper to book direct with the airline.
On one London to Malaga summer holiday return flight, Booking.com found the cheapest non-stop fare with Spanish airline Vueling for £183. But when we checked the same flight on the airline's own website - Vueling.com - the fare was just £129. A customer using Booking.com would have paid £54 over the odds.
Booking.com said 'there are no hidden charges or fees for any travellers who choose to arrange their flights with Booking.com. The price the customer sees when searching for flights, is the final price they'll pay'.
|Route||Airline||Booking.com cheapest price||Skyscanner cheapest price||Direct with airline price|
|London to Tenerife: Feb half term||Ryanair||£526||£495||£514|
|London to Malaga: Feb half term||Ryanair||£211||£208||£204|
|London to New York: Feb half term||Virgin Atlantic||£583||£506||£587|
Table notes: Cheapest flight price in bold. We selected four popular destinations and compared the cheapest non-stop return flight prices (with no extras, like baggage, added) with Booking.com and Skyscanner on three different dates. We also compared prices direct with the airline that Booking.com displayed as the cheapest.
Booking.com partners with Swedish online travel agent, GoToGate to sell flights.
We haven't assessed GoToGate in a survey since November 2020, when it got a low 45% customer score in our online flight booking sites survey. It also scored just two stars for customer service.
However, customers purchasing flights through Booking.com would have access to Booking.com's own customer service.
Booking.com told us 'By working with different suppliers, including Lastminute and Gotogate, it enables us to provide a wide range of choices to our customers to meet their specific needs, while always ensuring that our obligations are met regarding travel protection and licenses.
Unless there is a substantial saving to be made, Which? Travel always recommends booking flights direct with the airline as the customer experience offered by OTAs during the pandemic has often been poor. Which? members contacted us about problems with refunds for cancelled flights, with many waiting months to receive their money as they were passed back and forth between the OTA and the airline.
Booking flights with an OTA can complicate and delay the refund process. Some of the worst OTAs charge a refund processing fee - even though you can always claim a free refund from the airline for a cancelled flight (in the EU/UK).
Additionally, OTAs can charge for overpriced extras such as hold baggage, seat selection and web check in and most have their own cancellation fees - on top of the airline's.