|The cost of a flight was different across all six websites that the consumer watchdog tested. gettyimagesbank|
By Sum Lok-Kei
According to the Consumer Council, of the six websites it tested, Skyscanner proved to be the best, with Google Flights the worst performer.
Clement Chan Kam-wing, who heads the council's publicity and community relations committee, said it came to the conclusion after conducting at least 50 searches on each of the six fare comparison websites: Skyscanner, Kayak, Cheapflights, Momondo, DuckDuckLook and Google Flights.
"Although all the websites claimed the airfares they displayed were the lowest prices available, results of actual trials showed a huge price difference," Chan said.
In one case, the same round-trip flight from Hong Kong to Jeju, South Korea, was priced at anywhere between HK$2,081 and HK$2,536.
|According to the Consumer Council's analysis on six websites, Skyscanner proved to be the best, with Google Flights the worst performer. gettyimagesbank|
Google Flights was unable to show that particular flight and instead listed another flight costing HK$4,102 ― almost double the cheapest fare shown on Skyscanner.
In another case, the six websites showed five different prices for the same flight from Hong Kong to Singapore, with the amount ranging from HK$920 to HK$1,337.
The council found that all six websites showed fares that differed from the actual prices paid by consumers at websites where consumers bought the tickets.
In the most extreme case, a flight between Hong Kong and Singapore was said to have cost HK$920 on a website, but when redirected to the airline's website, the actual fare was HK$1,309 ― 42 per cent higher.
The council's chief executive, Gilly Wong Fung-han, said as websites were based in various countries, different prices for the same flight could be explained by variations in currency exchange rates, or fare prices being refreshed in between searches.
Wong also warned against buying "hacker fare" tickets available online, and said it could lead to passengers being kicked off flights.
A "hacker fare" is achieved by combining one-way and round-trip tickets for a two-way journey.
By ditching one journey of a round-trip ticket, the fare may be lowered, and an overall cheaper deal might be achieved, as compared to buying a round-trip ticket from one airline.
However, Wong said the practice could be risky.
"If you buy it, you are running the risk of violating the airline's policy," she said. "It is possible for them to stop you boarding."
|Clement Chan said that claims on some price comparison sites could be misleading. Photo from the South China Morning Post|
After conducting the trials, the council gave Skyscanner the best overall rating of 3.5 out of 5, while Google Flights performed worst with a rating of 2 out of 5.
"In some cases, these tickets were sold out or not even listed on the ticketing websites," Chan said.
He also said none of the websites had provide clear information related to baggage allowance, fare or booking class, air mileage earnings, or ticket change and cancellation policies.
The council has received only two complaints against fare comparison websites since 2016, but recommended that the accuracy of all fare comparison websites should be improved, and that consumers should source their information from multiple websites.