Flight rate search engines claiming to find cheap online rates often deceive consumers, not showing the lowest prices available at all.
Very often the search engines in question are in cahoots with certain airlines, which pay the search engines a commission in exchange for preferential search result placement.
This was revealed in the Danish consumer show Kontant on Danish national television last week. The show conducted searches on flights between seven different routes across seven different search engines, all of which purported to show the lowest prices. The price range between the seven was drastic, with the worst cases turning up as much as a 50% difference in price for the same route.
Consumer law specialist Sonny Kristofferson, speaking with Danmarks Radio, said these search machines’ marketing violates the law. Using the concept “cheapest” in marketing is not allowed unless the party making the claim can verifiably live up to it. As these search engines do not do that, he says, their marketing is misleading.
Digital marketing business manager Henrik Bondtofte furthermore said some of the search engines had an agreement with certain airlines, receiving a commission in exchange for top choice placement when consumers search for reasonably priced flights. On some search engines, the same airlines show up at the top every time.
Since the show’s airing on Danish television, at least two of the search engines have changed their website text, no longer promising to show the cheapest fares.
Danish consumer organization Tænk has conducted a similar type of survey on flight search engines, subsequently reporting three of them to the Danish Consumer Ombudsman.
One of these search engines is the Icelandic Dohop, which is among those claiming to offer the lowest prices. The Danish Consumer Protection Agency made five searches on the engine, with the search engine never finding the actual lowest price available.