Travel booking website Trivago has failed to appeal a federal court ruling it misled Australian consumers about cheap hotel deals in its TV advertising and on its website.
Trivago aggregates prices from other booking sites such as Expedia, as well as hotel websites, with the supposed aim of finding the best deal for would-be travellers and holidaymakers.
In January, federal court Justice Mark Moshinsky found the Netherlands-incorporated company showed big-spending advertisers higher up in results for hotel deals and above the cheapest options.
“Contrary to the impression created by the relevant conduct, the Trivago website did not provide an impartial, objective and transparent price comparison service,” Moshinsky said.
“The fact that Trivago was being paid by the online booking sites was not made clear,” he wrote in his judgment.
Trivago was also found to have misled customers for its price comparison because in listings it would compare the price for standard rooms with a luxury room at the same hotel, which made it appear as though people were saving money.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission took Trivago to court in August 2019 over the ads, which aired over 400,000 times between late 2013 and mid 2018.
Trivago appealed the original decision and on Wednesday, the full federal court upheld Moshinsky’s judgment.
ACCC chair Rod Sims said the win sent a warning to price comparison sites about misleading consumers with the results recommendations.
“We brought this case because we were concerned that consumers were being misled by Trivago’s claims that their site was getting the best deal for consumers, when in fact they were shown the deals that benefited Trivago,” Sims said in a statement.
“Trivago’s conduct meant that consumers may have paid more for a room at a hotel than they should have, and hotels lost business from direct bookings despite offering a cheaper prices.”
Guardian Australia has sought comment from Trivago.
The ACCC is seeking orders for declarations and injunctions from Trivago, as well as penalties and costs. Those orders will be decided by Moshinsky at a date to be determined.