April 9, 2006
Caveat Emptor – Best Price Guarantees and Londontown.com
You may be familiar with Hotwire's “Double the Difference” guarantee or any of the price matching guarantees that many travel booking sites offer.
Sounds too good to be true? That’s because it is.
I booked the Kingsway Hall Hotel on Londontown.com for £638 for four nights in a fully cancelable booking. Not only was it not the cheapest price; it wasn’t the cheapest by a longshot. Bookings.org had the same room for £396.
I checked the terms of the offer carefully before filing a claim. Exact same room type. Both rates included V.A.T. Both came without breakfast. Both were fully refundable and neither involved prepayment. So I sent my claim in and waited.
Londontown.com’s acknowledgement states they will get back to you within four working days; after four days I sent in a reminder and waited for a response.
It came a day later, here it is reprinted in full:
Money Back Guarantee
Thanks for your email to LondonTown.com and for drawing this cheaper rate to our attention.
In order to be eligible for our Best Price Guarantee your "cheaper rate" needs to meet the terms & conditions outlined on our site: These are the terms and conditions of the Best Price/No Quibble Guarantee offered by LondonTown.com to you in relation to hotel accommodation:
Our promise to you:
1. The website www.londontown.com (the "Website") is owned and managed by London Marketing.com Limited ("London Marketing"). London Marketing GUARANTEES to pay to you 4 times the difference in price if, within 48 hours of making a hotel booking through the Website, you find an "identical offer" not through the Website, which is lower in price than the price advertised on the Website at the time the "identical offer" is found (the "Guarantee").
2. An "identical offer" means an offer which, aside from price, is identical in all respects, such that it can be accessed and booked by the public for the same hotel, same room type, same number of guests, same currency, same applicable taxes, same dates, and the same terms of payment and cancellation.
Unfortunately the offer you located on www.booking.com has a 24 hour cancellation. The booking you made through www.LondonTown.com has a 2pm on the day of arrival cancellation policy.
As your lower rate does not identically match the rate booked through www.LondonTown.com I am afraid that your claim has been unsuccessful.
I hope you have a fantastic time in London.
Best wishes and thank you
Thanks for the good wishes, Nadine. My favorite part is the Orwellian humor of a “No Quibble” guarantee that denies a claim based on the fact that though both rates were fully cancelable, there was a less than 24 hour difference between the two cancellation policies. In short, though this should be no surprise, it would have cost them more than £900 to honor their guarantee. They were going to deny on absolutely anything.
They’re within their rights to do this; the claims were not identical down to the DNA, and as they say in their terms and conditions:
5.London Marketing at its sole discretion will decide whether you have a valid claim under the Guarantee and will, as soon as possible, inform you whether your claim under the Guarantee is valid.What this translates to is it’s their decision and their choice. They will honor a rate it suits them to honor. I'm glad that I had a fully cancelable rate and I wouldn't have even tried this rate if it were not cancelable without a penalty. They’re not the only one to do this; most of the low-price guarantees aren’t worth the pixels they are printed on because of the identical booking clauses. Octopus Travel had a better rate at the Birmingham Hyatt in England than Hyatt.com. I called Hyatt and they refused to match the rate because the rate on Hyatt.com did not include breakfast and the rate on Octopus Travel did. It was cheaper and included more; therefore it could not be covered by their guarantee. Catch-22. Gary Leff mentioned to me that the same thing happen to him at Starwood. I have, however heard of several people successfully claiming the Double the Difference guarantee at Hotwire.
Looking at their site, Londontown.com had several rates that seemed advantageous but they quote without VAT, which raises the rates considerably. Do they have the lowest prices? Occasionally - I found a few rates that looked better than elsewhere. Will they actually guarantee you the lowest price? No. Does that guarantee mean you’ll get the lowest price? God, no. You’ll only get that the old-fashioned way, by comparison shopping. The guarantee’s purpose is to dupe you, not to protect you.
Posted by Leigh Witchel at April 9, 2006 10:57 PM
TrackBack URL for this entry:
This is like the mattress low price guarantee scam. The whole industry has conspired so that no two retail chains carry the exact same mattress set. They either differ in the pattern of the material covering the mattress, or they sell an identical mattress with a different model name. Even the commercially well known brand names (e.g. Sealy PosturePedic) have "sub" brand names... one retailer will sell a Sealy PosturePedic Premiere Mattress, while another will sell a Sealy PosturePedic Platinum Mattress, and yet another will sell a Sealy PosturePedic Presidential. All these mattress will have the same features/specifications, but by differentiating them with a sub brand name they have eliminated any possibility of having to honor a price match guarantee.
Posted by: steve at April 10, 2006 11:38 AM