SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — In a class action, independently owned hotels accuse Expedia, Orbitz and other travel websites of running a bait-and-switch scam, funnelling business to hotels that pay them a fee by falsely advertising nonparticipating hotels as booked up.
"Expedia's deceit is brazen," Buckeye Tree Lodge And Sequoia Village Inn say in the federal class action. "Expedia posts fake telephone numbers for Buckeye Tree Lodge and other class member hotels to divert callers to Expedia's own operators, who then try to book the consumers at Expedia member hotels.
"Worse, Expedia then targets social media advertisements — for hotels it cannot book — to those consumers, using the brands of class member hotels to divert business from them to Expedia members.
"Believing Expedia's representation that there is no availability at a class member hotel, consumers take their business to Expedia member hotels. And the bait and switch is complete."
California-based Buckeye Tree Lodge And Sequoia Village Inn LLC is the single, named plaintiff, with two hotels. It sued Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz and Trivago, four of the leading web-based hotel booking sites.
All four websites charge hotels a fee to book rooms via their website, but have no ability to book hotels that do not participate in their program, including the Buckeye Tree Lodge and Sequoia Village Inn.
It's a simple scam, and a "classic bait and switch," the hotels say: "Defendants push 'deals' for stays at their members' hotels and lie about the availability of rooms at non-member hotels."
And consumers have no way of telling which hotels do business with the websites and which do not, according to the complaint.
Compounding the situation, the websites advertise on social media that they can book rooms at nonmember hotels, luring consumers to their sites, then redirect them to other hotels, violating the victim hotels' trademarks, interfering with their business and profiting unjustly, Buckeye Tree Lodge says.
"The deception starts even before consumers visit the websites. Defendants purchase false and misleading advertisements on internet search engines like Google, to funnel traffic to their websites.
"For example, when a consumer uses Google to search for the Buckeye Tree Lodge, the engine's top result returns an advertisement purchased by defendants to 'Book Buckeye Tree Lodge' and promising 'Incredible Offers on Great Hotels. Buckeye Tree Lodge,'" the complaint states.
The complaint then shows a screen shot of a Google search for Buckeye Tree Lodge, with links to hotels.com and orbitz.com.
"The Google advertisements were false, misleading and omitted material facts necessary to make them not misleading because they stated or implied that Defendants had an affiliation with the class members and that defendants could book stays at the class members' hotels on behalf of consumers," the complaint states.
"In truth, at all relevant times, defendants had no affiliation with Buckeye Tree Lodge and the class members, and defendants had no way to actually book stays at Buckeye Tree Lodge or at the class members' hotels on behalf of consumers."
A Google search Friday morning for Buckeye Tree Lodge led to a page on which the 12th link was to Expedia.com. However, in a Google search for Buckeye Tree Lodge And Sequoia Village Inn, the Expedia link appeared on top, and the link itself led to a page of other hotels in the area, but not the Buckeye Tree Lodge or Sequoia Village Inn.
The LLC seeks certification of a national class and a California subclass, a permanent injunction, restitution, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, and damages for false advertising, trademark violations, unfair competition, business code violations, intentional and negligent interference with prospective economic advantage, and unjust enrichment.
It is represented by James Patterson in San Diego.
Expedia, Orbitz and Trivago did not respond to emailed requests for comment. Hotels.com does not list a press contact for the United States.
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