Price differences on holiday booking sites

Monday May 17th 2021


The fishing village of Padstow in Cornwall. Photo by Belinda Fewings

Written by Midlothian View Reporter, Luke Jackson

Prices for the same holiday cottage on the same dates can vary by hundreds of pounds – and come with significantly different booking terms – depending on who the stay is booked with, according to a snapshot investigation from Which?.

The consumer champion looked at six different holiday cottages that are listed across multiple booking platforms – including Airbnb, and Sykes – to find how prices and booking terms compared.

The research uncovered substantial differences in price between the different listings, even when the same dates were compared for the same cottages, as well as significant variations in the booking terms that could leave holidaymakers out of pocket if they were unable to travel as planned.

In some cases, paying more upfront would give holidaymakers greater flexibility, should they have to change or cancel their plans at short notice. Other booking platforms had more robust refund policies relating to coronavirus, allowing guests to rebook or cancel if they develop symptoms or test positive for Covid-19, are told to self-isolate by Track and Trace, or if they are subject to local or national travel restrictions.

One three-bed holiday cottage in Suffolk listed on Kid & Coe, a family-friendly holiday rental company, cost nearly £650 more for six people for the same dates if booked through Airbnb, due to the service charge that is applied per guest. However, Kid & Coe charges around £375 to cancel the booking up to six weeks before check-in, and amendments thereafter are at the owner’s discretion. In comparison, Airbnb allows free cancellations for this cottage up to 24 hours before check-in.

In another example, a one-bed cottage in Cumbria was listed on both Expedia and Vrbo for £787, but would only let guests cancel free of charge up to two months before check-in. The same listing also appeared on both Love Cottages and Good Life Lake District Cottages costing nearly £150 less, but guests booking through these sites would be subject to a £50 admin fee if they wanted to request a date change, with no guarantee it would be successful.

A Welsh two-bed cottage that was found listed on four different sites, as well as having a fifth option of booking direct, ranged from £568 to £639 in price. However, despite three of those listings – all priced at £568 – appearing on different sites, all three are ultimately managed by Sykes.

Sykes came under investigation from the Competition and Markets Authority last year for withholding refunds, and despite the probe, Sykes says that refunds could take up to 45 days to process.

If holidaymakers booked the same cottage for the same dates through Airbnb or booked direct, they would pay an extra £71. However, the booking terms may be more favourable if booked directly, so guests should contact the owner to make a comparison before booking. Booking with a credit card would also give them additional protections.

A fourth example Which? looked at – a four-bed cottage in Devon – was found on four different platforms, with the most expensive listing being found on Vrbo at £1,451. Vrbo sometimes offers more favourable cancellation options than other sites, but in this example that wasn’t the case – meaning there is no value in paying more. The other three listings were all priced at £1,249, but would leave you out of pocket if you caught Covid-19 and couldn’t travel, meaning a decent travel insurance policy would be advisable.

While some Covid-19 risks remain, Which? is advising anyone considering booking a holiday cottage this summer to do their research by checking the terms of any potential stay and to only go with a company that offers a generous refund and flexible booking policy.

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All Which? Recommended Providers have committed to offering refunds to customers who cannot travel due to national or local lockdowns, restrictions on household mixing, or because they have caught Covid-19 and/or have been asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace.

Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel, said:

“Many people might assume a UK holiday would be risk-free compared to taking a trip abroad this year. But while the risks may be lower, that doesn’t mean they’re non-existent – and not all providers will protect you.

“The best way to ensure your money is protected when booking is to make sure you choose a provider that offers a robust refund policy. Some companies that claim you can book with confidence actually offer very little flexibility, so always check the terms.

“Travel insurance can offer some additional protections, but UK cover is often limited so it pays to do your research – and for added protections in case your cottage isn’t as described, up to standard or isn’t provided at all, book with a credit card.”

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