Holidaymakers using travel booking sites face “serious problems” over refund policies and hidden fees, a consumer group has claimed.
Which? said its survey of nearly 4,900 members indicated that customers are usually better off booking a package deal through a tour operator or going direct to an airline or accommodation provider.
Booking sites offer consumers the ability to compare prices for a vast array of travel options, but the poll suggests the coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase in problems using such services.
Flight booking sites fared particularly badly in the research, with some companies proving impossible to contact about cancellations, and charging admin fees to process refunds.
Opodo was given the lowest overall score with 41%. Its customer service was rated just two stars out of five.
Lastminute.com and Gotogate also scored poorly, with 46% and 45% respectively.
Even Netflights, which received the highest score for flight booking sites at 65%, only got three stars for customer service.
The firm said refunds “normally” take 45 days to process but wait times are longer due to the pandemic.
This is despite passengers being entitled to refunds within seven days under EU law.
Accommodation booking sites were rated more favourably by people responding to the survey.
Airbnb was ranked in first place, with five stars for both customer service and price contributing to an overall score of 75%.
Opodo - 41%
Gotogate - 45%
Lastminute.com - 46%
Netflights - 65%
This was followed by Booking.com (71%) and Vrbo (69%), which was recently rebranded from HomeAway.Lastminute.com propped up the accommodation booking table, scoring just 55% and only mustering three stars across all categories.
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “Booking sites have been seen as a hassle-free way to find the best deal on travel or accommodation when booking a holiday, but our survey highlights serious problems, from dodgy refund policies and unwelcome admin fees, to non-existent customer service.
“This year has shown us that nothing can be guaranteed when it comes to booking a holiday, so it’s more important than ever to ensure the company you’re booking with can be trusted with your money.
“With a couple of notable exceptions, booking sites have let their customers down on this front, so the best way to ensure your money is in safe hands is to book a package, hotel or flight directly, and only with a reputable provider.”
An Opodo spokeswoman said: “While each and every one of our customers is important to us and we strive for 100% customer satisfaction, the number of responses to the Which? survey from Opodo customers (93) is very limited.
“This small sample size is not reflective of the 17 million customers that we have worldwide. We have refunded over one million tickets and 100% of package holidays.”