Ctrip backs down over 'hidden extras'

Faced with a storm of controversy the Shanghai-based online travel platform will change booking forms to require customers to choose extras, rather than including them by default.

Shanghai-based online travel giant Ctrip is streamlining its procedures after a storm erupted on the Internet over the default inclusion of extra charges for items such as insurance in the booking process.

An anonymous post on WeChat recently said travellers were unaware they were paying for VIP lounge access, hotel coupons, pick-up and drop-off services and other extras because they did not notice the items were selected by default and had to be unchecked if they weren’t wanted.

The post was widely shared online by netizens as the storm raged over costs added to airline and railway tickets.

One example cited was a domestic flight ticket priced at 1,037 yuan (US$160) on the original search page, but which increased to 1,152 yuan at checkout.

The final price had been inflated by additional charges such as a compulsory 50 yuan airport construction fee, a hotel discount coupon and lounge access, which were easy for customers to miss and troublesome to go back and uncheck.

The option for unchecking was also often difficult to see, the post said.

The post also accused Ctrip of profiteering by 10 billion yuan a year through such “bundle sales,” and the online buzz escalated after mainland actress Han Xue complained on her Weibo account, saying she was a frequent victim of the Ctrip system.

In its initial response during the National Day holiday, Ctrip described the profiteering allegation as defamatory, but it failed to ease consumer rage as more travelers complained of similar experiences with bundled charges.

“I have to be very careful every time when I book air tickets on Ctrip to avoid stepping on a landmine because I don’t need these services and don’t want to pay extra,” said travel veteran Michelle Xiao.

“I need to compare the price on the payment page with the single air ticket price and return to the earlier pages to cancel these services if I find there is a price gap.”

Zou Yuewen, an accountant, said she had been tricked several times.

“Once I was reminded by the system that I must be quick to grab the last two tickets,” she said. “So I was in a hurry and did not check the extra items.”

Zou said she ended up paying more than 60 yuan extra for a hotel coupon and insurance which she did not use.

Faced with the continuing customer anger, Ctrip issued another statement on Tuesday night saying it would change the booking process to require customers to actively select extra items if they want them, rather than de-select the extra if they didn’t want them.

The China Consumers Association in May ordered Ctrip to address similar complaints and says it is closely following developments.

Bundling is common practice on many online travel and airline sites, such as Tuniu, Tongcheng, Lvmama, eLong, and Alibaba’s online travel unit, Fliggy.

Special Reports