Ctrip.com, China's largest online travel agency (OTA), has been challenged by users and business insiders for reportedly defrauding consumers with so-called default fees.
A post that revealed secrete of Ctrip created a buzz. An article created a buzz, saying Ctrip can earn 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) per year by misleading consumers in the booking system and charging default fees.
For instance, users have been charged fees for flight insurance by default or misled into paying for services they didn't want such as shuttle bus pick-ups or VIP lounges at airports, because sometimes the button to cancel an item in a package tour can be hard to find. In other cases, users find they are forced to restart the booking process, which is not user-friendly.
"In effect, OTAs have broken the law," Cao Lei, director of Hangzhou-based China e-Business Research Center, told the Global Times on Monday. Cao said that "selling products such as air tickets bundled with hotel rooms as a package is illegal, as the platform has infringed on consumers' rights to be informed and make free choices."
Cao reminded consumers that they have every right and freedom to compare and select what they would like to book, and consumers should present proof of their complaints to industry and commercial departments.
"Online vendors are required to display prices clearly, otherwise it might be alleged price fraud," Ma Ce, co-founder of the Kending law firm in East China's Zhenjiang Province, said. "The key issue is whether Ctrip's practices constitute price fraud and whether all prices have been properly tagged."
In a statement Ctrip sent to the Global Times, the company promised to display the cost of each item at each step of purchase.
For example, value-added products will be highlighted and in the payment pages, a breakdown by item will be displayed. At present, it said, all recommended products can be rejected by users, the statement said.