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Booking.com agrees to EU demands to change travel offers (reuters.com)
227 points by deng 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 184 comments



I use Booking.com because it actually has worked very well for me for many years (including things like getting me a refund for a non-cancellable booking, which I wasn't really entitled to and I didn't expected to get... saved me a good chunk of money). But indeed, in the last few years the sales techniques are scummy as hell.

Go look at a hotel in the middle of nothing in the most off-peak season, and it will still tell you that several rooms have been booked in the last few days and there are like 4 people looking at that hotel right now so you should book NOW! And of course everything is a one-time bargain. It's so blatant I don't even know how anyone can believe all that.

What annoys me is that as I mentioned, when it comes to the actual product (hotel bookings, their management, and customer service), it works great (at least in my experience). It's far from being a scam. So why they have to resort to that cheap, misleading sales tactics, probably hindering their image, is beyond me.


When I worked there a few years ago, I was actually surprised to discover that all these teasers were actually factual, including the "X other guests are looking at that hotel" and "Y rooms already booked in the last X days". But the way they are phrased can definitively be misleading, which is what the article is about.

It's at the same time great and sad that no single sale genius is behind those teasers, though, as virtually anything can be tested online by anyone and only actual bookings will decide what sticks. It used to work the other way too: once a particular phrasing have been approved by the A/B experiment engine, it's very hard to get rid of it. Unless there is a new regulation of course. Regulations were also taken very seriously, but to the letter. Meaning those dark patterns will likely stay online whenever they are not regulated against.


I ran my holiday apartment through booking.com for 18 months, until a week or so ago - 95% of my business comes via Airbnb so the additional channel just didn’t make sense.

One thing I can tell you is that the “x guests booked” absolutely isn’t true, as it would frequently say so about my apartment when I hadn’t had a booking in months.

Maybe it’s true in some cases, but there’s definitely some fudging going on.


> One thing I can tell you is that the “x guests booked” absolutely isn’t true, as it would frequently say so about my apartment when I hadn’t had a booking in months.

Did it specifically say "X guests booked at this specific apartment/hotel"?

Not explicitly specifying the place would seem like an easy way to have a technically correct statement, while being extremely misleading. E.g. maybe it just meant bookings in the same city, despite showing that text beside your apartment.


Giving them the benefit of the doubt here - could they have been counting you blocking off dates for bookings made through other channels?


It could make sense because you are at constant risk of deplatforming and having a second provider is a backup plan. Unfortunately it's really rare to be able to get bookings from two platforms in a balanced way. I'm still trying to understand why. Any ideas?


Channel imbalance is inevitable without conscious and active management to prevent it. I used to run an ecommerce platform, and saw the innards of a lot of merchants. In a nutshell, a winning channel will see snowballing resource investment, and a losing one will be starved. You can force parity, but it usually comes at the cost of overall volume.

Boils down to risk mgmt vs revenue - and all but the most conservative businesses will choose revenue.

In my case, I absolutely starved booking in favour of Airbnb, as Airbnb was much faster out of the gate. So, I have platform risk, but revenue is good.


How did you starve Booking? Didn'it just happen?

My point is that in this market it's really hard to attain channel balance.

It seems the OTAs alghoritms absolutely favour cannibalization.


I didn’t actively manage pricing, which I do on Airbnb - and had to charge a lot more on booking for the same revenue, as their commissions are fairly astronomical, if you want to feature anywhere other than the last page of search.


Wow, that's surprising. I would have bet heavily on those messages being straight out false. I have seen the "3 other guests are looking" message in hotels in quite off-track places and seasons, when booking well in advance. If that message is true, I guess I just underestimate the size of the market and/or the number of hotels that people will browse before booking.


There's actually many things that I hated about travel sites, and then I worked at a "travel tech" company and it changed by perception of the industry as a whole. Part of the issue is the suppliers themselves. Bcom, Expedia, Kayak etc are all at the mercy of what individual hoteliers and airlines report. I've seen data issues where hotels will report little/no inventory, and we investigated the issue and it was on their end (user error, oops). Or, a huge party booked up the hotel, but users were angry because just 24 hours before, we showed N open rooms, and now we have almost nothing.

Issues like this happen all the time, and the debate always centered around messaging. We would love to tell users why something is unbookable, but trying to figure out the details with suppliers ended up being near impossible.

That being said, OTAs do have their own set of issues to answer for, including misleading messaging, scummy sales tactics, etc.


I’ve recently joined travel/hospitality tech company adjacent to but not exactly the same as the core booking segment. What you said about investigating a lack of vacancy coming from the Hotelier/user error I would suspect has to do with poor PMS integration. You probably know some of the same vendor names that I do.

For those unfamiliar, think of a Hotel’s PMS system like an ERP platform but for hotel operations and associating guest services with guest billing info. Buy the high-speed WiFi instead of using the slow free WiFi? That goes to the PMS and tells the hotel to bill you for it (if they don’t farm that out to a third-party who bills and remits on their behalf).

Anyhow.

I’ve come to learn, without naming any of my clients publicly that technology integration in hospitality (I specifically refer to household name hotel brands, not necessarily brands associated with ordering reservations like Expedia and Booking.com) ranges from exceptional but difficult to horrifying but trivial, and a common source of my personal frustrations as a product manager for our specific services (which require integration to these PMS platforms) is incomplete or inaccurate data produced by the property or hotel brand THEMSELVES

I feel your frustration.


Totally! I agree with everything you've said, their relatively lack of tech sophistication a huge PIA and it causes us daily headaches.

In addition, I've noticed that their hardware and software is often terrible, non-performant or buggy. So when we try to interface with them, we need to do hacks like severe rate limiting and long term caching of inventory (sometimes 24+ hours), simply because if we wanted to run at the TPS we run at, they would tip over. This leads to stale inventory on our end, and customer anger. We would love to do everything live (with short term caching), but the suppliers just can't take the load. Just about the only direct call made is the booking one, everything else is stale by some amount.

Monitoring/logging is often non-existent, so when you say "hey we're seeing latency" they have no idea how to diagnose or fix. Often, they don't have metrics in place and are unaware that there is latency to begin with.

> incomplete or inaccurate data produced by the property or hotel brand THEMSELVES

I believe it's largely because the RPC soap calls that many of these integrations use are stateful, so making the same call over and over again can lead to different results. Much of their tech stack is stuck in the 90s/early 2000s, and it shows.


I believe the alerts false, statistically speaking, these alerts don't make sense. Every room you click is in an end-of-world situation where you have to book now otherwise "who knows" and 5 days later the same amount of rooms is available and the same exact scenario is presented for all rooms/hotels.

ps. What I usually do, is look at booking.com for hotels at cheaper prices and then head to the hotel's website. They usually have more categories of available rooms and at a cheaper price.


I guess this heavily depends on markets. I'm often frustrated by the hotel's reply: book on booking.com


I wonder if some of those "guests" are website scrapers or other automated systems from competitors that are looking to get pricing info.


As you might intuitively conclude, Booking and its competitors invest quite heavily into detecting real vs. bot traffic. Often, sites will block bot traffic or degrade the content. Booking is very torn on that because they don't want an arms race. When I worked on the experiment tooling, we very much preferred to have more, but tagged bot traffic than less and undiscovered. That's because for the experiment analysis, the undiscovered bot traffic was poison.


True the are lots of booking scrapers like trivago


I wonder if some of these automated systems are ran by booking.com, or someone contracted to run them? Too cynical?


I worked for a competitor, and the amount of time+money we spent blocking scrapers was insane.

The reason we spent all that time+money? It affected the metrics on which we were paid, AND consumed a huge amount of compute resources of ourselves and partners.

It's also (at least in part) why places are doing the "Sign up to see special offers" thing - because the offer isn't for display on the open site, and they don't want that value to appear on scrapers. So... logged in users only, and validate that user isn't doing scraping.


> AND consumed a huge amount of compute resources of ourselves and partners

Wow, I'm interested to know more here! How much bot/scraper traffic was there that it cost you big on compute?


I don't want to give away too much detail - Company IP, self identifying, etc.

However, lets just say that if normal peak traffic is 1X, then bot traffic can come in at 100-10000X. And in most cases it's not a smooth rise, it'll be a case of suddenly all this new traffic came in, no warning, no rise.

How many non-trivially complex sites do you know that can suddenly take 100-10000X their normal peak in under a minute? Those that do - are their managers happy about spending on idle infrastructure?

How fast do you think even services like AWS can scale? (hint: it's not fast enough).

Normal traffic is, in aggregate, quite predictable in load. Outside of very unusual situations, you don't get hundreds of thousands of people suddenly hitting your site.

Plus, because that traffic is nice and predictable, you can have decent caching rules, reducing the cost of the traffic again.

Along comes Mr Botnet and they want to scrape everything: every hotel in every city, every checkin/out tuple for stays of 1-7 days for the next 12 months, and a bunch of room configurations.

Kiss your caching goodbye, because now not only is your cache hit ratio for their searches going to be effectively zero, but now it's being filled with other shit that nobody else wants.

And this is just our infrastructure. There's the third party OTAs that we hit, and they have the same issue, often with smaller and less experienced teams running on crappier infrastructure. So, you get angry calls from them that their shared hosting provider is cutting them off and you're ruining their business. Because of course, this shared hosting is not only hosting their room availability search API, but their hotel check-in and sales applications - so nobody in 30 hotels can check-in/out.


This wouldn’t be a problem if these companies offered an API to access their data. But of course, that wouldn’t be good for a business which ultimately depends on information asymmetry and walled garden lock-in. Personally I’m not a big fan of these business models (see LinkedIn for another example), but I at least understand where they’re coming from. I also understand it’s sometimes out of your hands, i.e. the hotel partners don’t want you to make the data easily available. Similar incentive structures exist in flight booking and geoblocked Netflix content.

FWIW, I’ve been on the other side of this (not in the travel industry), and written scrapers. I never scraped the HTML, though. My strategy was to MITM the mobile app and use the same API. I also made sure to throttle the traffic, if not to be respectful, at least to blend in without setting off alarms...


> This wouldn’t be a problem if these companies offered an API to access their data.

Sorry, but you're talking about something you have no idea of.

The impact on that platform of someone using the API vs crawling the site is approximately the same.

Whether someone scraped us via the API or via the HTML made no difference in terms of impact on the platform.


> Sorry, but you're talking about something you have no idea of.

This kind of personal attack seems unnecessary, and by the way, I probably know a lot more than you assume about this particular topic.

Regardless, if you had an API, you could charge for it. It wouldn't cover 100% of the scrapers, but it would cover some.


My intent was not to attack you, but to respond to your assumptions about the business model, and your comparisons to geoblocking and LinkedIn's anti-crawling stuff.

There were APIs. I won't go into the business relationships that existed over their use.

There were still scrapers, regardless.


We also had problems with scrapers using our data. We contacted lawyers, got advice to plant extra messages to get evidence. They then took care of it and the problems have slowly gone away. Cache now works much better. Not fun when you spend a lot of time and money to accumulate data and someone thinks they should have it for free.


If you put the data on the internet, and it’s accessible at a public address, it’s free. If you don’t want people (or robots) to access it, don’t make it public.

You might be interested in the case of LinkedIn vs HiQ [0], which is setting precedent for protecting scraping of public data.

Based on the fact that you “inserted special messages,” it sounds like the people scraping your site may have been republishing the data. That is a separate issue that in some cases can violate copyright. But in that case, it’s not the scraping of the data that is the problem, so much as it is republishing the data outside the bounds of fair use.

I am of the strong belief that if you make your data publicly available to users, you should expect bots to scrape it too. If your infrastructure is setup in a way that makes traffic from those bots expensive, that’s your problem. The solution is not to sue people or send them letters. You can mitigate it with infrastructure changes like aggressive caching, or you can charge for access for everyone, not just bots. IMO, it’s especially wrong if you allow google to scrape your data, but try to stop every other bot from doing the same.

[0] https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/09/victory-ruling-hiq-v-l...


> You can mitigate it with infrastructure changes like aggressive caching

Rate data has a very limited validity period. Customers get super super pissed (and assume you're scamming them) if when they click through they find out that the hotel/flight/whatever that on the previous page you had said was $200, is now either $250 or sold out. Customers, and the local authorities also tend to get lawyers involved if it happens (in their eyes) too frequently without a good explanation.

It's expensive to get that rate data, because unless you have your own inventory, you have to go out to third party APIs to request that rate for the search parameter tuple which has a specific checkin/checkout dates. When you're searching larger cities - where you might have thousands of hotels - that can be an insanely large number of API calls to return rates.

Most places (including my former employer) don't have a problem issue with scrapers, so long as they didn't abuse the platform to the point that it was causing a ton of extra load. When you have someone who spins up huge numbers of connections at once, that's when we have to do something about it.

> you can charge for access for everyone

That's implicit in the purchase process.

It's like if there's a little cafe that provides free water and tables to sit at on their balcony. That works out for them because it attracts customers. Not everyone might buy something, but most do.

Then someone who runs a dog walking business decides to make that a stop on their walk with 20 dogs. Their dogs eat all the treats, run around the balcony, while the walker sits at the table and drinks the water. Meanwhile, customers are annoyed that there's now 20 barking dogs running around and so they leave.

The business is well within their rights to tell the dog walker to leave and not return without also blocking others who aren't abusing the system.


"My strategy was to MITM the mobile app and use the same API."

Did the app use cert pinning

What percentage of apps actually use cert pinning


A fair amount of apps use cert pinning, not sure on the percentages. It’s easy to circumvent if you have a jailbroken device. I haven’t done this in a few years but there used to be something called SSLKillSwitch for jailbroken iOS which would hook the HTTP request method to remove the cert pinning.


Thanks for the detail. It's just mind-boggling to me that you could have a peak of (for example) 1K requests per second, then a bot rises that to 10M requests per second.

If nothing else, it seems incredible that bot authors would be so willfully harmful - they must know that kind of behaviour is going to prompt a reaction


I don't think even google crawls the whole www with 10M rps.


> Sign up to see special offers

Another reason why they do that is because their partners require they don't advertise special pricing to the world at large, they're contractually forbidden from doing so.


Why not offer a public api? Logging in seems like a small hurdle for a bot but enough of a hassel that customers lose interest.


We did have an API, but it wasn't public - because search traffic is expensive. Both, as mentioned, in compute resources, but also in pissing off and/or outright crashing vendors.

Logging in - requiring an email validation loop - would be simple for bots, but again, anti-bot tech stops them from doing it en-masse.


Login with re-captcha, and banning of accounts that are obviously scraping could be quite effective I guess.


It doesn't say anything about when they are looking for. It's a lie by omission.


I can confirm it was also true for a competitor.


Wasn’t there an article, recently, maybe for another website, that these were generated client side with Math.random()?


It was either Math.random or it was a request that always got back the same number. It was posted on here; I remember it clearly.

I've interviewed for Booking.com and even the girl on the phone couldn't make their process appealing (tons of Perl; no plans to migrate to anything not perl, very few tests, very little code review, developers can push straight to production .. seems like a hell shop).


There are currently plans to do new stuff in Java. A rewrite of the old code base is impossible.

Most of your code will be deployed as an experiment, so you are more likely to throw away that code instead of refactoring it.

Developers can push to production, and are expected to be responsible for the results of that push. It works quite well.


That's not what three former Booking.com folks I know have said. There's a striking unanimity to their descriptions: risk-heavy day-to-day work ("experiments" not being nearly as firewalled as you might hope), a consistent level of incuriosity amongst line developers and their leadership (which, not gonna lie, "new stuff will be in Java in TYOOL 2020" does a lot to buttress), and rotgut technical-debt Perl that will never be rehabilitated (ditto). Also an HR department that plays real hardball if you're not an EU citizen.

(I used to work in the travel space, at TripAdvisor, but that was about eight years ago; no other affiliations.)


Well, everyone is of course entitled to her own experience, but for what it's worth I think Booking has been one of the most interesting place I've seen, not in small part because of how data driven they are, as opposed to myth driven like most IT business/people.

One of their mantra was indeed "we are not an IT company", which I came to understand as "we don't want to hear about how things ought to be done. We do not bow to best practices. We rely on measurements not culture".

After a few years in a big corporation where you couldn't change more than 3 lines of code without 2 code reviews and approval from 2 managers, without ever considering the customers or the final product, moving there was such a relief!

Usage of a runtime typed, interpreted language for so many loc in production was of course concerning (esp. Perl which syntax and semantic are sometime surprising), but the attitude considering of caring more about measuring and controlling every possible effect than following the best practices of the day is invaluable.

This is definitively a place I would recommend to any engineer willing to learn.


That was CheapOair, a brand of Fareportal. Different company.


I think it was this series of tweets:

https://twitter.com/OphirHarpaz/status/1184486445039411201


I remember reading that article at some point in the past. Pretty ridiculous, having a customer lie to themselves. I can’t remember what site that was, either.


I seem to recall this too, as well as others claiming to have worked at booking.com saying these things were knowingly false.

Edit: it's quite possible that I'm mixing up memories of a company other than booking.com


Would love to see an example of a booking employee (current or former) claiming they're false. I looked into a number of them first hand and they weren't (last I did that would've been 2016/2017 and certainly didn't audit the entire code base).


Sorry for the self reply, some context. The reason I looked at a number of these urgency messaging implementations is that we'd gotten a bunch of allegations from legislators that they were wrong. I was in a senior enough position that I would've been able to push back on anything dodgy/outright lying I would've found. I didn't find any that were incorrect.


There was an article that ran a few months back here about how most of those teaser numbered were backed by a rand() function


> go look at a hotel in the middle of nothing in the most off-peak season, and it will still tell you that several rooms have been booked in the last few days

I live in the middle of nowhere where all mostly empty hotels are listed as at least 50% booked because hotel owners mark rooms as booked themselves to not look empty.. it's not all booking.com's fault.


By providing a quality service wrapped in a layer of sleaze they get both the savvy self interested and the gullible markets at the cost of the ethically conscious one.

I'd make that play in a heartbeat.


booking.com is like shopping in Times Square, and gives me a headache. But just like Times Square, many people seem to enjoy it.

Edit: in the spirit of Hacker News, what I always think about is how financially successful booking.com is, given what I think is the worst experience in the world for reserving a hotel room. I use it to remind myself that very few people think like me, and making things to my liking (straight and to the point) will get me nowhere.

Still boggles my mind that people prefer to patronize businesses that show a high price with a nebulous x% off, rather than just a simple price.


I use booking.com both as a customer and hotelier.

Usually I’ll search booking.com to find a hotel to stay and if the hotel belongs to a brand let’s say Hilton or Marriott I’ll email them directly to get a better price. For smaller hotels or apartments I use booking.com for the security it provides me with. By security I mean that in the unfortunate case that the hotel of apartment I booked is overbooked or something similar, I trust booking.com and on its ability to force the hotelier to reaccomodate me somewhere else. I’ve had this happened to me previously as a client and booking.com managed to straight it out. Now if you book directly through a small hotel or apartment or even use the likes of Airbnb or something at points you risk being out of accommodation and just getting your money back which in a busy season that there is no availability left in the area and the closest room is 2 times more expensive than you booked. I know that people think that’s an extreme scenario but let me tell you that I run my hotel like airlines do. It’s cheaper to overbook and relocate someone to a near hotel having 105% capacity than having running lower than 100% on high season. And of course I had that happen to me as a client previously and just getting money back wasn’t nice at all. But overall look at hotels and email them, most hotels will knock off the 15-20% commission booking.com is charging.


>It’s cheaper to overbook and relocate someone to a near hotel having 105% capacity than having running lower than 100% on high season.

And your relocated customers are surely happy about that.

I (used to) travel a lot for work and the one thing I am pretty sure is that I never returned to a hotel that overbooked and had me relocate, additionally I told everyone I knew about the shitty behaviour and made sure that noone in the company I worked for ever booked there again.

Now, I make some consulting work for a small, independent, hotel, and - luckily enough - even if it is "cheaper" to overbook, the management holds the care and respect for the customer well above that.


Thankfully we have websites such as booking.com to sniff out fraudulent operations like GP's. Reviews where guests have been turned away with a valid reservation are the reddest of red flags for me.

Dirty rooms can be cleaned, cockroaches can be eradicated, but intentional overselling indicates an incurable dishonesty at the heart of management.


Marriott/Hilton/IHG/Accor/Choice/Wyndham/Hyatt, everyone overcooks. The systems are set to allow a certain number of rooms to be overbooked every night, since there is a high probability of a certain percentage of people not showing up or wanting to cancel every night. The more rooms a hotel has, the more they can overbook. Although all the major brands have a policy of providing a free room night and transportation to an equivalent quality hotel nearby.

All the airlines do it to, too. Also, if a VIP comes in wanting to spend a month at the hotel and the hotel has to overbook a couple nights, they’re not going to turn away thousands in revenue. Even the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan cancels reservations when the Saudi royal family is in town.


Sadly, many (if not most) hotels will oversell their capacity. I'm now a Marriott Platinum member and one of the benefits of being Platinum is that they are bound to pay a premium to me if they oversell my room. IIRC it's 200%, meaning they don't charge me, buy me a comparable nearby room AND give me a credit for the original reservation price.

I would sometimes need to arrive to check-in really late, like 3 a.m. If the hotel was nearly full I'd actually get a call on my mobile phone from the desk manager around 10p or 11p asking if I was still going to be checking in. I'm sure it was only because the hotel would get dinged by corporate for having to pay me out if they gave away my room. Too bad they don't care enough to do that for everyone before selling out their room from under them.

An alternate strategy I use with other chains when I'm concerned there might be an oversold situation is to call the hotel around the normal check-in time (~3p) and get the front desk to check-in my room while I'm on the phone and insist on getting the actual room number. That way, it'll be some other poor schmuck who trying to check in at midnight that will get shafted.


Maybe there is something different where you live (I presume the US).

Here (Italy) you make a reservation, and if you do that through one of the portals such as booking.com you surely already provide your credit card number and the authorization to either bill the room price or bill the "no-show", which usually is one night unless you cancel 24 or 48 hours prior your reservation.

For the hotel it is a win situation, as the room you reserved will have no costs attached (laundry, maid, cleaning as it will be not used) and no costs for (the actual ingredients of) your breakfast, while the hotel will cash the same money.

Not only, a few (again according to my personal standards dishonest) hotels will bill you the "no show" and sell anyway "your" room to someone arriving late, thus doubling the income.


>Now, I make some consulting work for a small, independent, hotel, and - luckily enough - even if it is "cheaper" to overbook, the management holds the care and respect for the customer well above that.

Overbooking and caring about the customer is a completely different thing.

Overbooking is about running a business. We are almost on 2020 and currently its a stats game for any business out there. In order to min/max my own business I have to overbook, that's how i'll turn profit.

Caring and respecting the customer - anyone that is not doing that shouldn't be running a hotel imho. (Ryanair as an example should never ever run a hotel)

Also on hotels you do have ratings nowadays, service is not something you can compromise on. If you are having unhappy customers then that will show on your tripadvisor, booking.com, hotels.com and whatever have you. Then you'll have to drop your prices, meaning making less and devaluing your product. Customer service/happiness should be the number one priority for any hotel out there.

My kind of hotel allows me to make a profit by capitalizing on overbookings. I've kept the hotel on 4 stars whilst is an actual 5 star hotel with all the amenities a 5 stars hotel has. I kept it that way because the expectations of the customer are lower when they visit a 4 star hotel vs a 5 star hotel.

The pricing nowadays doesn't go by stars anyways it goes by rating. The higher your ratings and publicity the higher your price. There is less than a handful of 5 stars around me that can be more expensive than I am. The rest of them are cheaper due to their ratings/size etc.

When a customer arrives and learns that his room has been overbooked, he also learns that he'll be staying at a close-by hotel that usually is of 5 stars. The quality of the hotel that I'll put my customer because he remains my customer is either similar or higher than my hotel. If the customer check the prices also for that hotel, he'll find that they are the same as the room he booked. (I get them cheaper through the hotels I do business with and that's where profit comes from).

But I'll never have the customer feel that he is getting less than he paid for, or have his holidays ruined or altered.

8/10 times he'll stay at a slightly cheaper hotel than mine but of similar or higher quality/star rating. 2/10 i'll go in the bank and i'll be putting the customer on a more expensive hotel than mine.

Again its a stats game but I won't compromise on customer service and that's running a hotel.

Also personally let me tell you that I am not very keen towards returning customers in my area. My experience has shown me that returning customers expect the hotel prices and offers to remain the same and the hotel is currently on a developing area which has its prices going up yearly. I had returning customers asking why I was X more expensive this year than their last visit in 2016. For me its straight forward: inflation and the market prices around me will set the prices to where they need to be. For the customer is a bit more complicated and the customer will usually believe that my hotel is just becoming more expensive without a reason. Again this thing on the returning customer is totally personal and it affects my area as its highly touristic and not a business area and my hotel being of a certain boutique size. I am aware that most hotels out there have loyalty programs and they do make their money of returning customers.

Again as a hotelier I'll never ever compromise on quality and try to capitalize on someones holidays by ruining them or making them feel awful. If there is no room available at my price point around the area, the customer is going to stay at a more expensive room than mine and me going out of pocket on that.


It depends a lot on the kind of hotel, the type of customers, the location, and a number of other things, incuding the distance to the other hotel(s).

If you are having tourists as customers, they may be not much inconvenienced by having to move to a nearby (really near) other hotel, if you are working with business customers they won't likely ever return.

In both cases, by my personal standards (not necessarily valid universally) when someone books a room in a hotel he/she is entering in a contract where one side guarantees the availability of the (specific, meaning in the specific hotel/building) room and the other promises to pay for that room (or the cancellation rate) and overbooking and moving the customer to another hotel, no matter whether it is 4, 5 ot 6 stars is:

1) a breach of that unwritten contract

2) a lack of respect towards the customer

And the "stats game" is the usual (poor) excuse to justify a less than correct behaviour, worse - if you are doing that extensively and to tourists (possibly foreigners that are not familiar with the city or the local language) - you are actually leveraging on their inferior position and their lack of power/alternatives.


Thanks for taking the time to write it up


> if the hotel belongs to a brand let’s say Hilton or Marriott I’ll email them directly to get a better price.

Does this work differently than calling the front desk? I tried that a few times over the years and never got a price improvement over the online brokers or the hotel website itself.


>Does this work differently than calling the front desk? I tried that a few times over the years and never got a price improvement over the online brokers or the hotel website itself.

That depends (now) from a lot of factors and until not so long ago the contract with booking.com didn't allow to publicize lower prices than what was on the booking.com site.

But it depends also on the hotel (how it is organized, if it is a chain, etc.).

Think at the front desk employee as an unsupervised/lazy employee of a largish organization.

You book through booking.com, it means less work for him/her and no change in his/her pay (but less revenue for the hotel).

I have had more than once conversations on the telephone with the front desk of an hotel, where they just told me to "go book online".

If I have no time I simply choose another hotel, if I have some spare time I call again and talk to the director about the matter.

Now think at the front desk employee as someone that has an interest in the income of the hotel (directly or indirectly) , the amount of work is the same (as there is not any "web reservation center" or the like) whether your booking is made by means of booking.com or directly (at the telephone and possibly with a confirmation e-mail) and he/she has the possibility to increase - even if slightly - the income of the company.


Bigger hotels tend to have a reservations team. Not every hotel will give you a better offer than whats on booking but depending on how you'll put it on your email etc yes you do get some discount against booking.com. Don't forget that a hotel has to pay 15-20% fee on the booking at booking.com and also has to deal with booking.com's rating system afterwards.

For me so far its worked everytime I am emailing the reservations team at a hotel. (I am in their trade though and tend to use my business email when booking) I reckon phoning a hotel might be harder to get you a discount because most of the times the frontdesk staff won't put you through to the reservations rep because he might be unavailable or whatever so they'll just give you whatever price the system tells them which is what you'll get on their website if you go to book directly. Its important to be able to contact the person that can amend the booking prices and frontdesk staff usually can't do that.


After long at booking.com, I once went directly to a hotel website to book, but still ended up with a booking.com reservation...


I've made around 50 reservations in last couple of years through them and I really like it for the uniform experience across chains, cities and countries. They've been helpful and I've never run and into actual problems. I also probably ignore their dark patterns subconsciously.. I dont have proper incentives to try other platforms, agoda, trivago etc. seem worse (without trying).


> I use it to remind myself that very few people think like me, and making things to my liking (straight and to the point) will get me nowhere.

There are many people that like straight and to the point. Most people would actually say they like it, although more are susceptible to these sales tactics than would like to admit.

Booking.com is actually one of the best experiences I have with reserving places. It's quick for me to reserve something, and in my experience works better than most alternatives. Airbnb would be a far better experience but it targets different properties.


I also tend to use Booking.com more often than not. I don't like the pressure tactics but in the end all I'm doing is looking at the price, the location map, the amenities, and the reviews. The UI lets me do all that easily so I can often find a great place without much trouble.


The convenience of not having to learn another interface is worth it to me. booking.com may suck, but the individual hotel's website will probably be less usable in the basic sense of taking more clicks to get a booking done and be unfamiliar. Agoda is no better than booking.com, Google doesn't have enough coverage. So what's the alternative?


I use roomkey.com, and always reserve and email directly with hotels themselves to confirm stay details, as well as secure the lowest non commissionable price.


Tried to take a look and the website took over 30 seconds to load, lol. Guessing it was only ever tested in the US.


I use Expedia, it's the same. But it's always cheaper than contacting the hotel directly either via website or phone. Always.


Never in a million years. I booked a hotel in Hollywood, specifying a king size bed through Expedia, and I had to go around with the hotel management about it to actually get the king size bed. They told me that the booking they got from Expedia was not specific. That was the last time I used Expedia. In fact I won't use any of the booking sites because I don't need the complication of wondering who is responsible for a problem.


Hilton/Marriott/IHG/choice/Wyndham/Hyatt all guarantee cheaper prices for reserving directly on their websites. Google them, if you see a lower price they will give you a hefty discount, but the computer systems shouldn’t allow it.


Have you ever tried to tell them that you're getting x price on Booking? They have always at least matched the price in my experience.


Relevant: “Consumers are becoming wise to your nudge” https://behavioralscientist.org/consumers-are-becoming-wise-...


I must admit that even though I know it is bullshit, it still makes me nervous as hell and I'm getting all tight until I book something, especially if I'm booking for a very near future. It works on me.


Same! And I hate myself for it. I know it's bullshit, but reminds me I guess that there could be other people who are gonna take the room before I can. Sigh, we're suckers.


The "one neat trick" that galls me even more is that when you did book a property you sometimes get spam that prices in Middleofnowhere just went down.

While not being able to prove it I'm almost 100% certain that this is a bold faced lie.

Why?

I booked a hotel maybe a week in advance in Sapporo in the middle of Golden Week[1]. Probably on the same day I received that slimy spam that "Prices in Sapporo just went down".

I think that's a lie because prices in Japan during Golden Week don't go down; never ever! Demand is so high during that time that this is just not believable in any way, shape or form.

Why slimey you ask? I think it's really shitty behavior by booking.com just having sold a property to then turn around trying to get me to cancel that property and book something apparently cheaper. I totally get why hotels hate booking.com with a vengeance when they use such scummy tactics against those entities they make their money from.

And I agree: The actual service works and is pretty good and they shouldn't need to hit you with tactics that are not that far off from that Nigerian gentleman who has a cool few million for you.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Week_(Japan)


> Go look at a hotel in the middle of nothing in the most off-peak season, and it will still tell you that several rooms have been booked in the last few days and there are like 4 people looking at that hotel right now so you should book NOW! And of course everything is a one-time bargain. It's so blatant I don't even know how anyone can believe all that.

Oh yeah, and you make your choice, it loads the page where one supposed to enter the details, as you are about to type in your first name, a popup comes up “hurry up”. This is the moment when I always shout “fuck you booking.com”.


Just going to tag on this; I’ve come to use Booking.com preferentially as it seems the least irritating, and I don’t remember the last time I was sold something I didn’t want from it. Guess I just blur out the bad bits?


> I don’t remember the last time I was sold something I didn’t want from it

That’s kind of the point of this type of misdirection: they use less than honest tactics to make you feel good about your choice. You’ll never know what alternatives you may have otherwise chosen and how happy you would have been.


I just look at "hotel" on google maps, weigh the prices/locations visually, and book directly. What's booking.com's value-add?


I can filter by ratings and locations above a certain level for places I'm not familiar with, filter by refund policy, and then read reviews and see if there are any deal breakers. I don't have to fight with an individual hotel's booking page, I know TripIt will read a Booking.com booking email perfectly, and Booking.com now has all my payment details saved.

Edit: it occurs to me that this is much like the advantage that Amazon once had, for the period of my life when I bought pretty much everything via Amazon. Shame they've lost my confidence.


Customer service vs dealing with small property owners directly.


Does booking.com have any customer service worth the name?

I use them sometimes, but from a company with such aggressive / dishonest marketing I would generally not expect any customer service worth the name. IIRC their terms and conditions exclude all responsibility whatsoever if the reservation does not work out, It's always the hotel's responsibility.

Luckily I have never had a case where I would have really had to contact their support.


Yea, that is one of the value propositions of using a middleman/marketplace (conversely, why many of Google’s forays in this area are horrible). Most OTAs are majority CS staff.


Well, if the marketplace offers good service.

These comments

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21859610 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21858747

tell different stories and honestly that's what I would fear.


I wrote a non-graphical, text-only, command line method of searching booking.com a few years ago using only nc/tnftp/curl/etc., sed, links (for form submission) and tmux (to send keystrokes to links). It searches for hotels, outputs a formatted list of hotel IDs, completes the dates availability form and returns a list of prices. I just tried it and it still works. Of course I never see any of the controversial tactics as they all require graphics.


A/B testing gone horribly wrong is my guess.


I think A/B testing went horribly right here. They make the most money they can comparing all the scenarios they ran, but the user is left with a shitty experience. But they keep coming back, converting, booking...


That's exactly right! Source: I designed and built a version of their experiment tooling (the last iteration before they had proper mathematicians to get it more right).


Satisfaction and Conversion can be so much at odds with each other sometimes. I see this in other markets a lot too :)


Local maxima everywhere though.


That would explain why their most annoying aspect — asking me to rate the every single time I book a room, sometimes more than once in a single transaction — has never gone away.


A lot of people, maybe most it doesn't work on. But that population probably won't avoid booking because of the sleezy tactics if the price is right.


Indeed, I'm annoyed by the tactics but in Europe it just has the widest selection and best prices. I always cross check with hotels.com, but that is more expensive almost without fail.


For this reason I use Kayak. Far cleaner website, no gimmicks. Surprisingly it is owned by Booking.com

And of course once I have a sense which hotel I want to stay at I try to book at their official site, so they don’t get charged an extortionate commission, and I get the points and elite status benefits.


It's owned by booking holdings (formerly called Priceline group). Booking.com is owned by the same group. They're being operated as fairly independent companies just as Agoda, opentable and Priceline.com are.


In some cases it can be true, it's hard to tell which are true and which aren't. I don't think those alerts are bad if they're true (the opposite actually: they're super helpful then). I've had some bookings be gone within hours because I waited too long.


After using them many times, they tried to charge me for a rental car I couldn't pick up from a disreputable agency (they wouldn't let me see the car, but demanded I sign a statement claiming no damage, along with a 1000€ deposit).

The management style seems oddly European here (I guess it's a Dutch company), since "growth at all costs" in the US usually means to err on the side of the customer. Interestingly, Europeans like to copy virtually everything from the US, often without being aware of it, but there's always something lost in translation.


Glad to hear the EU is cracking down on Booking.com's sales tactics. Unfortunately, those manipulative tactics actually work.

I frequently have to remind my mother (in her 70s, and tends to believe everything on the internet) not to rush through a Booking.com transaction because "rooms are selling out fast." Or not to favor Booking.com because she was given some "insider discount" (forgot the exact phrase) for repeat business.

As the article states, plenty of rooms are still available for a given hotel no matter what Booking.com claims. And that "insider discount"? I got the same price as her while logged in on a brand new account.


I keep wondering about this. In your mother's era, surely there were "hucksters" or snake-oil salesmen. But now, it seems like almost everyone (on the Internet) is one. Why?

Is it the only way to succeed? Or profit >> reputation? Or the faceless-ness of online selling? Or the global economy?

What fundamentally changed since, say, 1980?


Hasn't the internet always been stuffed to the gills with con artists? At least, since the "Eternal September"?

Isn't it surreal how quickly society snapped from, "never tell anyone your real name or where you live, never try anything that people tell you to do without independently verifying the advice first" to actively encouraging oversharing?

It feels odd to say this considering how nihilistic and distrustful the current zeitgeist is, but does anyone else get the feeling that many people who came online in the past decade or so are way too credulous and never received the cautions and warnings that we used to give new users as a matter of course? I don't think it's limited to older generations.


That's a good point. One explanation would be that social media profiles suddenly gained value. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the "influencer" economy. The expectation of having a LinkedIn profile. Suddenly it's no longer viable to hide behind a pseudonymous identity.


I'd say a major factor is the removal of the human factor when conducting business. Automation makes it possible to push a large part of the responsibility to the customer. Just imagine standing in front of a person in a travel agency saying the same things to you as the booking.com website says; "I can offer you a discount because you're such a valuable customer to us, but you need to book within 2 minutes or I'll remove the discount!".


Metrics, A/B testing and top-down management. It's well-known that commissioned salespeople always acted like this. A/B testing means the whole website has the same incentives as someone working on commission, and the same behaviour will result.


Hell, when one half of my brain has to remind the other half not to be rushed by all the "only one room available!", what hope is there for your mother?

The most blatant piece of evidence for what they do is how they say "ONLY ONE ROOM LEFT AT THIS HOTEL" but when you go back and request two rooms, this changes to "ONLY TWO ROOMS LEFT AT THIS HOTEL" immediately.


I used to work there until end of 2017 in a senior role, running the infrastructure development department.

During my time there, the company would never actually do something that was technically wrong (or lying), with a couple of exceptions where some individual went too far and wasn't caught in any review. There were certainly UI elements that were misleading or suggesting (never claiming) of something being a freebie when it was included in the chosen rate. These sort of changes consistently received internal criticism, but ultimately due to the outstanding A/B testing tooling, were shown to be worth too much money for the detractors to succeed. There were maybe a handful that were rolled back due to internal criticism.

In any case, it seems unlikely that booking would implement the change you describe.

NB: the actual availability was always controlled by the hotels, as were the prices - booking does not own inventory, unlike some of its competitors!

Edit: removed surplus punctuation.


Not booking.com, but travel sites definitely have gotten caught using Math.random() to generate the "x people are looking!" alerts.

https://twitter.com/OphirHarpaz/status/1184486445039411201


Oh yeah. Booking doesn't do it because it's big enough that it would get called out - externally and internally. Also, is actually much less snake oily a company than its reputation here or else I wouldn't have worked there for as many years.


"Hate selling" as it was dubbed by one of the trade magazines (over 4 years ago)

https://skift.com/2015/08/10/travel-brands-stop-hate-selling...


Add the following to your uBlock filters:

  booking.com##.soldout_property
  booking.com##.sr_rooms_left_wrap.only_x_left
  booking.com##.lastbooking
  booking.com##.sr--x-times-booked
  booking.com##.in-high-demand-not-scarce
  booking.com##.top_scarcity
  booking.com##.hp-rt-just-booked
  booking.com##.cheapest_banner_content > *
  booking.com##.hp-social_proof
  booking.com##.fe_banner__red.fe_banner__w-icon.fe_banner__scale_small.fe_banner
  booking.com##.urgency_message_x_people.urgency_message_red
  booking.com##.rackrate
  booking.com##.urgency_message_red.altHotels_most_recent_booking
  booking.com##.fe_banner__w-icon-large.fe_banner__w-icon.fe_banner
  booking.com##.smaller-low-av-msg_wrapper
  booking.com##.small_warning.wxp-sr-banner.js-wxp-sr-banner


Surely people who would add these rules are already aware of the tactics Booking employs


I'm aware of them, but half of my brain is still reacting to them and making me try and make decisions quicker. Maybe others are capable of blocking them; but I know that I'm not, even though I'm aware that it is happening.

That is why I have put together these filters. The social proof really works on me.


I had over 1000 nights booked through booking.com.

Once I turned up at an apartment which didn’t exist (it was a scam listing) and they were absolutely useless in helping us or issuing a refund.

I moved exclusively to Hotels.com since then who offer a free night for every 10 nights you book.

In this case allowing people to list their own properties on their website without checks was really bad for their brand.


That always sound like a damn impressive story to be read by some booking.com executive. Sure, you are just a single customer, but 1000 nights is quite impressive. To lose such a loyal customer over something that shouldn't have happened in the first place is a bummer.

I guess I should try hotels.com someday as well.


> I guess I should try hotels.com someday as well.

Just so folks are aware, there are essentially only 3 major OTA (online travel agency) brands:

Booking Holdings: Booking.com, Kayak, Priceline, Agoda (and also OpenTable)

Expedia Group: Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz, Travelocity, VRBO (aka HomeAway), Trivago, Hotwire, Cheap Tickets, Wotif

AirBnB: AirBnB and Hotel Tonight

TripAdvisor is also standalone (they previously spun out of Expedia) but their business, based on recommendations, is a bit different than the others.


I only managed to get it resolved by emailing most of the leadership and creating noise on social media. I hate these web companies who want the profits of a marketplace but none of the obligations.


The Hotels.com free night is not as good as it sounds. It’s valued at the average price of the 10 stays. It will only cover one nights worth of stay and does not cover the taxes and fees. So it not the 9% off it sounds like.

Also the fact that they charge you $5 to redeem rewards on the website but not their app suggestions there are some shenanigans going on.


This is the scarcity tactic straight out of Influence by Robert Cialdini. Its a hardwired response that works on a lot of people.

Good book to raise your awareness about how you're being manipulated by sales and marketing.

https://www.influenceatwork.com/principles-of-persuasion/


Not lying about what you're selling seems like it ought to the norm without requiring legal intervention?


On the contrary, without legal intervention the market collapses into everyone lying all of the time. The famous economics paper on this is Akerloff's "Market For Lemons".


Free market advocates usually point out that reputation markets could arise in these situations. Of course the question is, would they, and would they provide a better force to raise quality of traded goods than regulation?


You can have private organizations certifying things, but then how do you decide which certification to trust? And what's the point, since the certification is going to be tied to the product, not independent?


Well, we can see how that worked with the big tech companies; it mostly works for Uber and AirBnB but problems still get through, and is turning into a serious reputational problem for Amazon.


Unfortunately, sleazebags with no ethics (eg "whatever parts suckers from $$$") outperform ethical people when viewed through the (say) MBA lens.

Thus the proliferation of places lying about everything they can get away with, until they're caught / stamped on.


I was long time booking.com user until they declined to resolve an issue of dishonest property description. Their response was:

Resolving complaints after check-out is challenging and less likely to result in compensation. In the future, communicate any complaints to the property during your stay, so the staff can ensure the rest of your stay is comfortable.

My reply was: ok, there are choices. I switched to Google Maps, check reviews there, and prefer booking directly on the hotel/owner sites.


I have an anecdote about that:

I had a brief stint working for a hotel booking competitor and, sometimes, a transaction would go through 3-4 hands, each taking commission, before reaching the hotel and I just hated that.

This spring we wound up stranded in Amsterdam for an evening and I needed to book a hotel fast. I checked booking.com and saw what was still available at the moment and I found a hotel - a double room on booking.com was 230EUR. I call the hotel, I tell them I want to book a room for tonight, total number of people etc. The receptionist comes back and tells me a double room is 285EUR. Do I want it? I do not. I went back to booking.com and reserved the room there.

I can also say that I had a problem with a dishonest property description (regarding parking) and complaining to Booking made them produce an underground parking space in 5 minutes - albeit this was before checking in.


Why this works:

Bcom and other OTAs negotiate discounted rates on your behalf, because they bring in so much volume they can pressure the suppliers. Similar to how Walmart gets rock bottom prices on goods.

Sometimes it's cheaper to directly contact, but often it is not.


That's a perfectly valid response from them. You also don't send food back after you've finished your plate.


In six months... Why they can't do this tomorrow is a mystery to me, it is not like they have to do something extra, they just have to stop being dishonest.


Oh, come on now, this is just stupid. Do you think their website code writes itself? 6 month is very much a reasonable deadline. In fact, it's the tightest I can realistically imagine for a platform with a considerable history and god knows how many lines of code to change its core functionality all their marketing strategy revolves around.


Why can't this just be removed from the front end immediately? The next six months can be used for removing it from the back end or keeping it there and just serving it up to those customers outside of the EU.

Adding the following to your uBlock filter will do most of this and it takes you all of 30 seconds. It would take a while longer to update their SASS, recompile the CSS, test and get into production but I'd have thought a few weeks should be sufficient.

uBlock filters:

  booking.com##.soldout_property
  booking.com##.sr_rooms_left_wrap.only_x_left
  booking.com##.lastbooking
  booking.com##.sr--x-times-booked
  booking.com##.in-high-demand-not-scarce
  booking.com##.top_scarcity
  booking.com##.hp-rt-just-booked
  booking.com##.cheapest_banner_content > *
  booking.com##.hp-social_proof
  booking.com##.fe_banner__red.fe_banner__w-icon.fe_banner__scale_small.fe_banner
  booking.com##.urgency_message_x_people.urgency_message_red
  booking.com##.rackrate
  booking.com##.urgency_message_red.altHotels_most_recent_booking
  booking.com##.fe_banner__w-icon-large.fe_banner__w-icon.fe_banner
  booking.com##.smaller-low-av-msg_wrapper
  booking.com##.small_warning.wxp-sr-banner.js-wxp-sr-banner


I can never tell with HN what is meant as sarcasm and what isn't, but somewhere in their code there is a bunch of stuff that reads 'do tricks' and you can just comment that bit out and everything else should continue to work. That they can sell ignorant politicians on that is one thing but here we really should know better.

Put another way: if they were given an opportunity to do the opposite it would be done in a day or two.


This is nonsense. It sounds like you never really worked on any large scale project with at least some amount of legacy code. I have experience with travel industry, and I can tell with absolute certainty that there exist many projects (much younger than booking.com, by the way), where disabling something like that "in a day or two" is downright physically impossible. Marketing and strategical issues aside, there wouldn't be a single person who could apply necessary changes in a day or two for any amount of money. It might sound crazy for an outsider, but that's just the way it is.


> This is nonsense. It sounds like you never really worked on any large scale project with at least some amount of legacy code.

Well, what you read into my writing is entirely your problem, but let's just say that you are far off the mark and it is precisely because I have couple of decades in IT behind me that I know that six months to stop doing something at this level is ridiculous.

> I have experience with travel industry, and I can tell with absolute certainty that there exist many projects (much younger than booking.com, by the way), where disabling something like that "in a day or two" is downright physically impossible.

I would hope that the level of competence at booking.com would be a little higher than that.

> Marketing and strategical issues aside, there wouldn't be a single person who could apply necessary changes in a day or two for any amount of money.

I'd be happy to give it a shot.

> It might sound crazy for an outsider, but that's just the way it is.

Or so you say. But the fact is that all software ever written did stuff because we tell it to and that disabling some bit of code is mostly matter of locating it. Writing new functionality can be very hard and might take a long time. But disabling something as simple as 'output ridiculous sentences that pressure our users into buying' should not be harder than to locate it and disabling it. If that has unintended side effects at the level that you are suggesting then booking.com has other problems.

Finally, I'm sure that if they wanted to make quick work of it they could disable that bit in the CSS for their website and make it pretty behind the scenes at their leisure. Anything that can be displayed can be hidden.


You are half right. Making those behaviors completely disappear from the codebase? That might be a challenge. Making them not show for the customers , ever ? That's a matter of adding a few display: none rules to the SASS, recompiling it and doing a quickfix release. At our company this would involve a frontend developer, someone who can do a release (not unlikely: me :) ) and someone from QA. If the law were on our tails, I would estimate less than a day to get this done even during Christmas holidays. I don't think we ever played the playbook in PagerDuty which pages frontend but we could. Even my phone meows rarely, phew! (PagerDuty has many hilarious sounds, my choice is the meow sound thus we practice meow driven development: I don't like my phone to meow desperately.)


> It might sound crazy for an outsider, but that's just the way it is.

That is not true, in booking.com specific case, any competent frontend developer can do it in couple of days if they had to.


One thing that I dont think people are aware is that Booking.com uses extensive A/B Testing in the development of the website. This gives us the website that is extremely efficient in getting bookings but full of dark patterns.


Why don't you think people are aware of this? Seems obvious that they do this because they know it increase sales. Not like it was made up as a nice consumer-friendly feature by one of their UX engineers.


I think the keyword there was "Extensive". Literally nothing can be pushed to production without being A/B tested.


> The company would also stop presenting offers as having a time limit if the same price applied after the time limit expired.

Now I expect them to change the price slightly in order to continue with the time limits.


Yep, the first thought of mine. I mean, it's not like something else is intended, but I'm feeling uneasy once more because of all these EU interventions. Don't get me wrong, I felt genuine joy and something akin to being proud to be an EU citizen when I read the article: the intention is to condemn something that very much should be condemned despite of us being used to that being a norm. But all that "we use cookies" notifications also were somewhat a noble cause, and it all made the web much less usable as a result. Which, I guess, was obvious from the start, but it isn't obvious to me they cannot fuck up whatever legal decision they are having with booking.com out there. And it would be more than a simple inconvenience to me if it turns out like that again. It would be kinda shameful.


It changed! By 0.49 cents, we rounded it down to a whole euro!


Booking.com is a parasite of the industry. It was widely used in Turkey as well. Once, I booked a room through them but there was a problem with the reservation (hotel's fault) when I called their call-center for help they didn't even have a turkish speaking staff. I had to speak in English in the middle of Turkey to solve the problem.

After awhile government banned them to operate in Turkey. That was a good decision.


I was looking at an otherwise nice flat to rent in Amsterdam on Reguliersdwarsstraat, but the balcony had a scenic view into the vast expanse of Booking.com headquarters open office space cubicle wasteland, which was waaaay too depressing to look at every day, so I decided could not possibly bear living there.


Sure you didn’t call the hotel directly? Booking has customer service in every major language (70+).


I arrived at the hotel. They overbooked the rooms. It was late at night. I called the booking.com call center. They didn't have a Turkish speaking staff.


I absolutely love how EU sets corporations straight and advocates for the customers.

Meanwhile US govt, “we’ll give you bigger tax breaks, just keep on growing that GDP number, do whatever you want, walk over, track everything and manipulate visitors if you want, just give us your corporate billions when we run for elections”


An interesting question would be "are there any decent alternatives to bookings.com" ?

Someone mentioned hotels.com which I'm going to try but there must be other players on this space.


Unrelated, booking released a nice turnkey utility for tying bird announcements to health checks: https://github.com/unixsurfer/anycast_healthchecker


This repository is under a username that, according to their profile page, belongs to someone at Elastic. How does it have anything to do with Booking?


It's someone who used to be at Booking when the software was written.


Pavlos worked for Booking.com in the past.


Not sure why people are hating on good freeware.


Next up, all those airline ticket websites like gotogate.


Not directly related, but still a nudge thing: it is impossible to sort the offerings by price (eg ascending) on booking.com . Am I the only user finding this extremely uncomfortable?


No it is not. How on Earth did you get the impression that you can't sort by price?

Mobile website and app, from just now: https://imgur.com/a/9422eyt


Have never used the listing view, thanks for the heads up.

On the map sorting by price is not possible, right? Or does my map view look different from yours? https://imgur.com/avyt3nr


I suspect you can only filter there, but haven't tried just now.


Yeah, that's exactly the case. And filtering is quite useless in London for example, where all the reasonable options are in a single bracket.


I really don't understand why companies insist on doing the scummiest thing. I know, I know. Profit, but they must surely think before doing this stuff right?


Because the people at the top don't just want a profitable business, they want ALL the possible profit and push the notion of legality to its limits. It's up to the legislator to crack down on that, but since the fines are ridiculously small and it costs more to fine these people than doing nothing, they do nothing.

It's funny how sometimes I wish legal institutions worked more like businesses, with processing fees on fines /s

But most generally a lot legal systems didn't catch up with globalization and tech gigantism and are still stuck in the 20th century, which leaves a lot of room for "legal arbitrage", the whole "disruption" business is built on that premise. There is the law, and actual law enforcement...


Because their huckster marketeers will point out that if they aren't the scummiest someone else will be who will then make more profits. There isn't anybody that is simply satisfied with what they make.


Every time I look at what the EU is doing for their citizens and then turn around and see the US has... removed all regulations on coal... I can’t help but think US thought leadership is dying


So essentially booking.com agrees to follow the law? That's good, I guess.


Yes, unlike, say Uber etc


Interesting, either there are 2 camps on HN, or a nuance I don't understand.

In one discussion, HN readers are upset if Facebook is made to filter misleading ads. "Let the market be free". And the slippery-slope argument is often used.

In others, HN readers want government to crack down on false/shady advertising. Or the negative externalities caused by the gig economy (Uber/Airbnb).

Can someone explain the difference. I don't think it's solely based on govt vs private industry doing the control.


> Either there are 2 camps on HN

HN commenters come from all over the world and have various backgrounds and viewpoints. Do you find that commenters always echo your viewpoints? Likely not, which should be proof right there that there are at least two camps. Trying to categorize such a large and varied group of people into a small number groups is likely going to be problematic, as is trying to simplify the positions of the commenters you read.


I guess it's that some discussions lean strongly one way, while others lean strongly the opposite way. Sometimes there is a debate.

Here, so far, nobody seems to be siding with Booking.com. Small sample size perhaps. Unlikely to be herd-mentality.


>Can someone explain the difference. I don't think it's solely based on govt vs private industry doing the control.

It's pretty much just that, particularly when it comes to political advertising. Regulatory bodies operate with the full oversight of government and the courts; if they make poor decisions, they can be held accountable. Facebook are already frighteningly powerful and deputising them to be arbiters of truth only makes them more powerful.

Facebook should absolutely have mechanisms in place to facilitate swift and effective intervention by regulatory agencies, but they shouldn't be acting as a regulatory agency themselves.


There's a difference between the two. I support both. Here's my thoughts:

1) In the former case, the question is: "Who decides what ads can and cannot be shown?"

Is it Facebook? No, people don't trust Facebook to have any clue about neutrality. Is it government? Of course not. Is it "an independent agency"? How do you determine 'independent'?

There is no appropriate regulator for what is and is not a fair ad. It's easy to block ads that contain hate speech. It's harder to regulate many types of "misleading".

2) Ads are a form of free speech and outreach to people. You can view advertisements as not even being connected to the service offering the placement. From Facebook/Google ads to billboards and TV, the point is to communicate a message. It isn't really for the host to decide what messages one can show to a very large audience, or to decide on censorship (goes back to point 1), beyond the obvious denial of ads with hate speech, inciting violence, etc.

The point is not the free speech of the advertisement provider. It's the free speech of the advertisers, and their freedom to get their message to people (irrelevant of popularity of the message).

3) The tactics used by Booking.com is fundamentally different. It's a company using deceptive practices to increase its own sales. There are no two parties here, nor is it an open market. It's the same company lying in its product to encourage conversions by deception. There is no advantage to free speech by allowing this to happen.

-------

I do not support complete market freedom, although I support the two things you mentioned, and I think it may be true for many (most?) people. Companies cannot be trusted to regulate themselves in many sectors. Governments must always involve themselves to ensure fairness, real competitive behaviour and the protection of rights.

Furthermore, most people are incapable of dealing with things like deceptive practices themselves. And that's where governments have to step in. Unfortunately, although it would be an ideal world where people can make their own choices and everything is a free market, most people aren't able to live in such a world and would be exploited dry.


Thanks, I appreciate the detail. This is still muddy to me:

- Booking is a company using deceptive practices to increase its own sales

- Deceptive political ads, even outright lies, are free speech (because there is no measurable "sale"? Surely there is a benefit, likely larger the more they mislead.)


The latter isn't free speech solely because there is no financial sale. It's free speech also because there's no entity that can really regulate the speech. And for politics, I think it's also fair for a party to come out with whatever views it wants. People should not be restricted in what kind of politics they are allowed to choose to run the country.

As far as political ads go, if something is a 'strategic lie'^, it's down to other campaigns to expose it as a lie. This comes down to point (1) of what I mentioned in my previous response; if we want to ban campaigns from spreading 'lies' there has to be a regulatory to decide what speech is and is not allowed on the basis of truth.

One possible solution is to have an incredibly independent branch of Congress do it, and any decision to reject an ad should be in public record with reasoning. But if this decision to reject was 'incorrect', exposure to the political content has been lost (the record of this branch won't nearly be as popular in access). There's too much subjectivity in the process by nature.

^: It's easier to censor blatant lies vs strategic lies. e.g. if you pull a figure out of thin air it's easier for any regulator to get away with saying it's a blatant lie and dishonest (eg: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-49701027). But many political ads are not such 'blatant lies', they're 'strategic lies'. They bend a fact (eg Vote Leave's bending of UK financial contributions to EU), or have a 'strategic' interpretation of something (deliberate misinterpretation to your advantage of a possibly vague statement of another politician), and they're usually worded 'strategically' to stay in a gray area. To regulate stuff like this is incredibly controversial because you're in a gray area of free speech.

The idea is that any person should be able to say anything and get their idea across to people, then it's up for people to determine whether they agree, disagree, or if they find it true or false.

If politics worked perfectly this would work without regulation. Other parties would expose it as a lie (or better yet, people do their research themselves) and people should care that a party is lying and hence it would count against the lying party. But since politics today sucks and people would stick with party through lies and deceit it doesn't seem to be working as well in practice.


I think you are missing a nuance:

Very many agree that Facebook cannot be trusted. They would ruin a good number of peoples lives a day given that 1) they could get away with it 2) they would earn more money that way.

Around here (Europe) however we already have kind-of-working regulations for ads and it would be nice to adapt those to work for booking.com as well.

Edit: removed "happily" in "happily ruin a good number of peoples lives" as I guess they'd rather prefer not to if it didn't cost them money ;-)


Where's their $100+ million fine though? Why aren't they getting fined like the US-based tech companies?


I'm guessing their tactics aren't _technically_ illegal, hence their quote:

>'ultimately Booking believes in clear legislation and standards that apply to everyone in the industry'


...which is pretty big. Back when I was with them (long time ago), a big thing internally was enforcing hotel prices (i.e. the hotel couldn't offer a room for cheaper). Basically there was the feeling that it got us a lot of bad blood (and yeah, was ethically questionable, though TBH at least with the folks I talked with — mostly IT, though in Booking you _could_ talk with some C-levels as a grunt dev — that was a distant 2nd concern), _but_ if we didn't do that then price comparison sites would eat us in no time in favour of someone who did.


I don't get it. How does that work? Why would a hotel offering a lower price (on your platform, I assume) than you want give you a lower rating on a price comparison site?


Other way around: if the hotel gives lower prices _elsewhere_ we'd lose out on price comparison sites.


because this is a different law and the penalties are (much much) lower. They could just pay the fine daily, it's better to sort out the actual issue.

us-based tech companies have been getting fines for GDPR(data privacy) violations, not false advertising.




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