Watchdog warns Expedia site operator over false claims

The false promotional claims had been around since 2016 and were taken down in October last year while investigations were ongoing. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM EXPEDIA.COM.SG

The website operator of online travel company Expedia Singapore - BEX Travel Asia - has ceased its false claims on the validity period of its "Daily Deals" promotions and said yesterday that it will not engage in further unfair practices.

This comes after a warning yesterday from the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) that misleading consumers in such a manner constitutes an unfair practice in breach of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA).

The consumer watchdog began investigating BEX in April last year.

CCCS found that there were at least 55 "Daily Deals" offers on the website, which claimed to expire at 11.59pm each day but the prices remained the same after midnight.

These misleading promotions included hotel deals and holiday package deals which were offered on the Expedia Singapore website and e-mailed to customers on BEX's mailing list.

"Such false claims in relation to promotional prices mislead consumers into believing that there is a price benefit which is available only for a limited period, thus creating unwarranted pressure or a sense of urgency for consumers to make an immediate purchase," said CCCS.

BEX had used such false promotional claims since 2016, but took such listings down in October last year while investigations were ongoing.

BEX said yesterday that it will ensure that promotions on the Expedia Singapore website will not claim to be available for a limited period if that is not the case.

Also, it will not claim that promotions are valid for a specific period if they may end before then.

In addition, it said it will comply with the CPFTA and take prompt steps to cease any unfair practices in breach of the Act.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, an Expedia spokesman said the company has worked with the CCCS over the past few months on improving how its travel-related information is presented to consumers.

"We gave our commitment to the CCCS on a voluntary basis that we will review our internal marketing processes to ensure that we continue to help customers book travel that meets their requirements and provide all relevant information that customers need. The CCCS in turn, has closed its investigation into BEX Travel Asia," said the spokesman.

CCCS said other businesses that engage in similar unfair practices are being monitored closely. It urged all businesses to review their business practices to comply with the CPFTA.

On Nov 1, the CCCS' guidelines on price transparency came into effect. They provide more clarity on what constitutes an infringement of consumer protection laws, and set out the factors and circumstances that the commission may consider in assessing if advertised prices and related practices are potentially misleading.

Under the Act, the CCCS is empowered to investigate errant businesses and file an injunction application against them.

If they do not cease the unfair practice, the businesses can be charged with contempt of court, which carries a fine of up to $10,000, or up to a year's imprisonment, or both.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2020, with the headline Watchdog warns Expedia site operator over false claims. Subscribe