SALT LAKE CITY — Lehi-based third-party hotel room resellers have settled Federal Trade Commission charges that they misled customers to believe they were booking directly with hotels.
A proposed order filed in U.S. District Court would bar the companies from deceptive practices and calls for changes to ensure consumers have the information they need to make informed reservation decisions.
Reservation Counter and its two parent companies, Partner Fusion and TravelPass Group, sell hotel reservations or bookings nationwide. They get hotel room inventory mostly through other online travel agencies such as Expedia, Priceline and Orbitz, and then market the rooms themselves.
"We will be making small technical changes to our website that we agree represent improvements. We look forward to continuing to help hotels maximize distribution and help travelers find the best rates," TravelPass Group spokesman Jason Burgess said in a statement.
The FTC settlement does not include a fine or punitive action against the companies.
Reservation Counter uses ads, websites and call centers to create the impression that people were booking rooms directly with the advertised hotel, according to the complaint. When consumers click on the link in ads, they are sent to Reservation Counter websites that featured information about the hotel being searched.
In many instances, travelers are charged immediately for the cost of the room rather than after arriving at the hotel. According to the complaint, they are not adequately informed that they will be charged immediately.
Also, people who book through the companies may not be eligible to receive reward points or other hotel loyalty program benefits, and hotel policies, such as cancellation and refund policies, may not be the same as when booking directly with the hotel.
The proposed settlement prohibits the Reservation Counter from using a hotel name or logo in any search engine advertising or website in a misleading way. It also bars them from placing their telephone number directly near a hotel name, logo or address that gives callers the impression they're contacting the hotel directly.
The order also requires the companies to disclose that callers to any of their hotel reservation call centers have reached an independent, third-party travel agency and to monitor their call centers to prevent misrepresentations.
A judge must sign the order and issue a permanent injunction to finalize the settlement.