If you use online travels sites like Orbitz or Priceline to shop around for the best hotel deals, you might be wasting your time.
A number of these sites, including Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, Orbitz and Hotels.com, have been accused of colluding with some of the country's largest hotel companies, including Hilton, Sheraton, Starwood, Marriott and Intercontinental, in a price-fixing scheme, according to a class-action lawsuit filed Monday.
Two plaintiffs, representing online hotel bookers nationwide, allege these hotel chains have become too reliant on travel websites, as a growing number of hotel bookings take place on these sites. (According to data from TravelClick, an industry researcher, hotel bookings through travel sites accounted for 11.4 percent of all bookings among individual business and leisure travelers last year.) The plaintiffs also allege that as a condition of doing business with them, the large travel sites made hotel chains promise not to sell rooms below a minimum rate, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs argue consumers are only granted the illusion that they can shop around for better deals, since the price-fixing makes room prices essentially the same across the travel sites.
“The cold fact is that there are no 'best prices' but instead there is only a fixed price that all the defendant online retailers tout in unison,” said Steve Berman, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, in a release.
The lawsuit comes after a June report that found Orbitz was showing different, costlier travel options to Mac users, after discovering that those consumers typically spent more than PC users when booking hotels online.