Expedia Inc., Starwood Hotels (HOT:US) & Resorts Worldwide Inc. and Marriott International Inc. (MAR:US), are among a group of online travel sites and hotels accused of conspiring to fix prices for hotel rooms.
The sites and hotels are named in a complaint filed today in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of hotel-room purchasers nationwide. The plaintiffs, one a resident of Chicago, the other of Cedar Falls, Iowa, seek unspecified damages and a court order to end the alleged price fixing.
“The large online travel sites, working with hotel chains, have created the illusion that savvy consumers can spend time researching hotel rates online to find good deals,” Steve Berman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “The reality is that these illegal price-parity agreements mean consumers see nothing but cosmetic differences and the same prices on every site.”
The large online travel sites, including Expedia, Travelocity, a unit of Sabre Holdings Corp., and Booking.com, a unit of Priceline.com Inc. (PCLN:US), extracted so-called resale price maintenance agreements from the hotel chains, according to the statement.
The travel sites sought the agreements to prevent the hotels from selling blocks of unsold rooms at the last minute to third-party wholesalers that sell them to smaller, price cutting online retailers, according to the statement. The agreements set a fixed price below which the hotels can’t sell the rooms to wholesalers, according the statement.
Representatives of the travel sites and the hotels didn’t immediately return calls for comment on the allegations.
The case is Turik v. Expedia, 12-4365, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco.)
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