A pricing error has led to rooms at a four-star hotel in Marrakech being offered on travel site Opodo.co.uk for £1.50 a night. One man who booked accommodation worth £8,000 has learned that his bargain booking will be honoured.
But the booking process of the website, which is owned by a consortium of European airlines, was legally sound, according to legal experts at OUT-LAW.COM. The mistake, it seems, was by the hotel.
Robert McMahon of Worcester told OUT-LAW that he had already booked a November flight to Morocco and was seeking accommodation when he tried Opodo. He spotted rooms priced at £1.50 a night in the Golden Tulip Farah Marrakech and booked a weekend break. He received an email immediately that said: "Thank you, your booking with Opodo is confirmed."
He returned to Opodo and booked five rooms for a 29-day period in January, paying £250 for accommodation that should have cost £8,000. Again, he received confirmation by email.
Fearing that the booking was too good to be true, McMahon telephoned Opodo. The company acknowledged that the price was a mistake, but confirmed that the deal had been sealed. McMahon said the hotel has also confirmed that it will honour the booking.
An Opodo spokesperson told OUT-LAW: "All of our hotels load their own rates and availability or they have a central reservation company that does it on their behalf. In the Marrakech instance either the hotel themselves or their head office loaded an incorrect rate. We contacted their head office as soon as we noticed this on our site who then changed it."
McMahon believes that others took advantage of the bargain price. The Golden Tulip did not return OUT-LAW's call for comment and Opodo's spokesperson said the company does not disclose booking information.
Contractually, Opodo escapes responsibility, according to Gavin McGinty, an e-commerce lawyer with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM. "The process works well for Opodo and the customer," he said. "Opodo makes clear in its conditions that, where you book a hotel only, Opodo is acting as an agent for the hotel – and that the contract is between the hotel and you. Opodo is not a party to the contract."
McGinty explained that both Opodo's own conditions and separate 'room conditions' are built into the e-commerce process when a user makes a booking. The 'room conditions' appear to be default conditions that can be tailored to each hotel that is advertised on the site.
"The room conditions are where the hotels can deal with the risks of pricing errors. Golden Tulip would do well to amend these room conditions, to protect it against this sort of problem in future," said McGinty. "Pricing errors can and will happen, but it's easy to get the process and the small print right to avoid pricing errors becoming costly mistakes."
The hotel's room conditions do make clear that a credit card is charged for the entire value of a reservation at the time of a booking; but they do not offer the hotel an opportunity to cancel in the event of a pricing error.
According to McMahon, Opodo did more for him than they had to. "They told me that if I had any problems when I went over to Marrakech [in November], they'd cover the costs of alternative accommodation. They were really good about it."