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Which? brands most travel comparison sites a ‘waste of time’

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Holidaymakers spend hours trawling comparison sites but only one or two are worth the trouble. Photograph: Getty Images

Most travel comparison websites are a waste of time and fail to find the cheapest prices, according to new research from Which? After asking more than 2,200 holidaymakers about their experiences of using comparison sites, the consumer body found that only Skyscanner, Kayak and TripAdvisor scored highly in terms of finding the best deals and being easy to use.

“Holidaymakers spend hours and sometimes days looking for the best hotel rates and the best airfares and for many of us, travel comparison sites are the first port of call. There are really only one or two sites you should consider using,” said Which? travel editor Rory Boland.

Which? found the best overall travel comparison site was Skyscanner, which was also the only site to receive four stars for value for money. TripAdvisor also scored highly – despite criticism earlier in the year for its failure to police fake reviews.

Of the hotel comparison sites, Kayak was found to offer the best rates, finding the cheapest deals on six out of 10 searches. However, consumers said that TripAdvisor offered a better overall experience for searching accommodation, thanks to listings including both reviews and prices.

“The advice is to look at the top one or two on the list – and don’t waste your time looking at Go Compare, Cheap Flights or Travel Supermarket. Users of those sites said they had a pretty awful time, and we didn’t find very good prices on them anyway,” said Boland.

Go Compare has removed its online holiday comparison tool after being been ranked the worst of the leading travel comparison sites in the Which? survey. It was criticised for poor functionality and high prices. The site, which was using third parties for searches, will still offer flights. Cheap Flights also fared poorly, scoring lowest on functionality.

Holidaymakers were asked about their experiences of researching holidays online in the past two years, taking into consideration value for money, whether users were shown prices for all major sites, and how easy the site was to navigate – for example, filter options and relevance of results. As well as an overall list, Which? also ranked flight-comparison and hotel-comparison sites separately, to assess whether they consistently found the best price.

In response to the results, Lee Griffin, CEO and founder of Go Compare, said: “We are constantly striving to improve our comparison services and we had already placed our travel comparison site under review. However, following the recent Which? survey, we have taken the decision to bring the review forward and have terminated the relationship with the third-party supplier and removed their holiday comparison service from the website, with immediate effect.”

Go Compare will still offer flight comparisons, in partnership with Skyscanner which, of the flight sites, produced the cheapest price for flights on six out of 10 occasions. This included, for instance, a last-minute flight to Kraków that was at least £60 cheaper than with competitors. Google Flights was ranked the worst, finding the cheapest fare just once, and the most expensive fare three times.

When searching for hotels in the UK, Boland suggests, consumers should use comparison sites to find the best rates but then phone the accommodation directly to negotiate rates.

“In many cases they will beat the price. If they aren’t able to beat the price they will match it and throw something in, too. You might get a free upgrade to a suite or a bottle of champagne,” he said. “It’s often the same in Australia and the US, but it can be more complex if there is a language barrier.”

The research found that many travel comparison sites failed because they offered a poor user experience:

“Consumers have sales and deals fatigue. Every time you go on one of these websites there are flashing red signs everywhere, and almost all of them have been warned about their misuse by the Competition and Markets Authority,” Boland said. “For instance, we have been reporting on the ‘last room’ nonsense for some time. In ridiculous examples, this would include the ‘last room remaining’ in terms of its absolute specifications – so it might mean one room left with that exact size of bathroom but there would be 53 other en suite doubles still available. That sort of pressure selling is unacceptable and it should stop.”

According to Boland, travel comparison sites should be aiming to include more useful information for travellers and fewer sales tactics.

“Skyscanner’s green-leaf icon [indicating the most eco-friendly flights] … is a helpful addition, rather than lots of prices and deals. There should be more developments like this, helping travellers make a positive environmental impact but still take a holiday.”

Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips

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