Gill Charlton helps a reader who forked out for a fake apartment on Booking.com
Peter Liney writes:
On Jan 17 I booked a few days away for our family in Val d’Isère through Booking.com. The apartment cost €2,222 (£1,966) for four nights and I paid the company in advance.
We had chosen this spacious property as it would be ideal for my wife, who was not able to ski. I tried phoning the manager before we left the UK on Feb 21 but there was no answer. I wasn’t particularly concerned, thinking the apartment would be easy to find.
Unfortunately, on arrival in Val, it turned out not to exist. I phoned Booking.com at 6pm and the agent said they would sort it out. Half an hour later they phoned to say the apartment had been “operationally removed” and offered a hotel 20 miles away from any ski resort.
When I declined this, the agent said I would have to sort out somewhere myself and they “may” pay the difference in cost. We eventually found a hotel for the first night and another for the remaining three. This included a room change so my wife had to check in and out on three of the four days and we had to eat out.
The original payment was quickly refunded and on my return I asked Booking.com to refund the extra €2,000 I paid for the hotel rooms and €742 – the cost of four dinners out. It has agreed to refund the extra hotel costs but no more than €200 for the dinners. Is this fair?
Gill Charlton, consumer correspondent, replies:
Earlier this year I wrote about the poor verification processes in place for apartments and chalets promoted by Booking.com. In its response, it said that unlike Airbnb’s open platform, all its listings were checked “by our security, local partner services, and customer service teams before properties are permitted to go live on our platform”.
When challenged about how this due diligence had failed in his case, the company told Mr Liney that it was not liable for “inaccurate, misleading or untrue” information on its site.
I asked Booking.com for a detailed explanation of what had gone wrong here and for some proper compensation. The company claimed that this was a sophisticated fraud that kept recurring, and this was why Mr Liney could see the apartment promoted right up until the day of his departure.
But it also admitted that it had known the listing was fraudulent within two hours of Mr Liney making the reservation and it had failed to follow it up and alert him.
As a result of my intervention, Booking.com has accepted that these were serious failings on its part and has now paid the cost of the hotel, all meals and taxi fares and additional compensation of €2,200 (£1,850) on top of refunding the initial rental.
As we start to travel again, demand for self-catering accommodation will be very high and fraudsters will be taking full advantage. So it is vital always to use a reputable online agent, pay with a credit card, and contact the accommodation provider well in advance to check they exist.