As Brits gear up for what they hope will be a summer of eased restrictions, the boom in holidays on home turf has meant some holiday companies are making a mint on staycations.
Consumer champions at Which? found prices for the same holiday cottages on the same dates can vary by hundreds of pounds and include significantly different booking terms depending on who it is booked with.
Not shopping around and comparing between booking websites can cost consumers dearly.
The snapshot investigation looked at six holiday cottages which are listed across multiple booking platforms. These included Airbnb (ABNB), Booking.com and Sykes.
All prices were checked on 3rd March 2021 and were for seven night stays in September 2021.
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.
Which? found one three-bed holiday cottage in Suffolk listed on Kid & Coe, a family-friendly holiday rental company, cost nearly £650 ($916.50) 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.
“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," said Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel.
“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.”
Watch: Should I book a holiday in 2021?