Holidaymakers are usually better off avoiding booking sites when arranging a holiday and booking directly with a travel provider instead, according to Which?.
The consumer organisation surveyed nearly 5,000 members about their experiences with various travel booking sites, broken down into flight booking sites, accommodation booking sites and travel comparison sites.
The results highlighted a slew of problems with using booking sites – usually presented as a hassle-free way to compare prices and get the best deal when booking a holiday – which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Respondents rated sites on a variety of criteria, including the functionality of the site, prices, and transparency of fees, with many sites earning an overall lower score than they did last year.
Flight booking sites fared particularly badly, with some companies proving impossible to contact regarding cancellations and refunds during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Some also charged admin fees to process refunds that would have been free if sought directly from the airline.
Netflights received the highest customer score in this category, though still an underwhelming 65 per cent.
It was the only flight booking site to score four stars for prices, and fewer than one in ten customers reported a problem with the website.
At the other end of the table for flight booking sites was Opodo, which Which? recently recommended passengers avoid booking with, after it left the ATOL scheme.
Comparison sites did not do much better.
The clear frontrunner in this market was Skyscanner, with a customer score of 67 per cent.
Accommodation booking sites were rated slightly more favourably.
This was the only category where some booking sites managed to receive a customer score of more than 70 per cent, with most accommodation booking sites managing to score four stars in at least one category.
Airbnb, with a customer score of 75 per cent, was the only booking site to impress customers and the consumer champion enough to receive Which? recommended status.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “Booking sites have been seen as a hassle-free way to find the best deal on travel or accommodation when booking a holiday, but our survey highlights serious problems, from dodgy refund policies and unwelcome admin fees, to non-existent customer service.
“This year has shown us that nothing can be guaranteed when it comes to booking a holiday, so it’s more important than ever to ensure the company you’re booking with can be trusted with your money.
“With a couple of notable exceptions, booking sites have let their customers down on this front, so the best way to ensure your money is in safe hands is to book a package, hotel or flight directly, and only with a reputable provider.”
In response to the findings, Opodo argued the Which? sample, or just 93 customers, was unrepresentative of the service offered by the business.
A spokesperson added: “Our priority this year has been to manage all the cancellations produced as a result of Covid-19.
“We have already refunded over one million tickets and 100 per cent of package holidays.
“All package holiday bookings made with Opodo are protected by the Spanish financial protection scheme, which is fully compliant with the standards of protection required by EU law and offers the same level of protection as ATOL.
“We appreciate the current travel environment is frustrating for our customers; our teams across the business are working hard to alleviate this as much as possible.
“However, airlines continue to withhold refunds that belong to consumers.
“Carriers are responsible for authorising refund requests and actioning the transfer of funds. We are unable to provide our customers with refunds until this step is completed by airlines, and their delays are contributing significantly to the amount of time our customers are having to wait.”
Opodo ATOL protected until 2019, at which time the CAA said that, due to the new provisions of the Package Travel Directive, they would not accept any more applications from EU travel agencies servicing their products in the UK.
This is the case for a number of businesses which have their headquarters outside of the UK and the situation is not unique to Opodo.