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British holidaymakers being ‘ripped off’ by booking websites

Venice
Venice

British holidaymakers are being charged hundreds of pounds more than overseas customers by travel firms offering “unfair prices” on UK booking websites.

In some cases travellers have been asked to pay significantly more than those booking trips from other European nations, according to a report by software firm NordVPN.

Holidaymakers were quoted over £1,000 more if they booked a seven night stay at Disneyland Hotel New York in December through the Disneyland Paris British website rather than its French page. UK holidaymakers were quoted £6,562 compared to £5,406 in France.

The report also found that a traveller could save £573 by booking a 10 night Caribbean cruise through MSC Cruises’ Italian website. It was over a fifth more expensive on the British version of the page, with Italian bookers paying £2,765 compared to £3,338 in the UK.

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Booking.com charged £293 less on its Spanish website for a seven night stay at the Carnival Palace Hotel in Venice in February, quoting a price of £1,576 for Spanish tourists compared to £1,869 for those in Britain.

Tui’s German site charged £2,807 for a 14 night stay at the Hotel Riu Palace in Tenerife next June, £339 less than the British equivalent.

Experts said prices could vary based on how much consumers were willing to pay in different territories. Exchange rates and local taxes were also a factor in how much consumers were charged.

Marijus Briedis, of NordVPN, warned that shoppers should never assume that they were being shown the same prices as everyone else.

“Companies use all kinds of complex algorithms to cater to the purchasing power of different countries,” he said. “They will routinely show different prices on different website domains, and it can even differ depending on where you’re visiting from.

“The factors most likely to influence the price you see are your location, your repeat visits to the website being tracked by cookies and whether your search coincides with a school holiday at home.”

Providers appeared to charge higher rates even for short trips: a family of four crossing the channel in October, from Portsmouth to St Malo, were quoted £430, £48 less via the French website of Brittany Ferries, NordVPN said.

Prices were checked on British and overseas company websites on multiple dates in August and September. Prices were converted from the local currency to sterling based on that day’s exchange rate.

Jane Hawkes, a consumer campaigner, urged consumers to hide their location to access the cheapest prices.

“For those who are not tech savvy, try browsing online using the ‘incognito’ option,” she said. “This means that your browsing history will not be tracked and you will find that providers’ prices come down. It can be a good couple of hundred pounds cheaper.”

Ms Hawkes said sealing a low price was especially important given sterling is comparatively weak against rival currencies.

She said: “The pound is weak too which means that your money may not stretch as far abroad. This is another hoop that consumers have to jump through.”

A spokesman for Brittany Ferries said server location and internet activity had no bearing on the prices paid by its customers.

He said: “Brittany Ferries offers four websites – one for each of the countries it serves: a UK website (where tickets are priced in pounds), and French, Spanish and Irish websites (where tickets are priced in euros). All four websites are available to all customers, wherever they are in the world.”

Tui declined to comment. Disneyland Paris, MSC Cruises and Booking.com did not respond to a request for comment.