Attorney General James gets $2.6 million from online travel agency for misleading marketing

ByRochelle W. Stone

Mar 16, 2022

Fareportal falsely claimed plane tickets and hotel rooms
Sell ​​quickly to encourage consumers to book

Farreportal used deceptive online tactics known as
“Dark models” to manipulate consumer decision-making

NEW YORK — New York Attorney General Letitia James has secured $2.6 million from an online travel agency, Fareportal Inc., for misleading consumers with deceptive marketing tactics. The investigation found that the company, which operates several travel-related websites and mobile platforms, including CheapOair.com and OneTravel.com, created a false urgency about availability to sell airfares and rooms of hotel. Fareportal has often falsely advertised airline tickets or hotel rooms selling out quickly to entice customers to make purchases on its platforms. These types of nefarious tactics, known as “dark patterns”, are used to manipulate and trick consumers into purchasing goods or services. As a result of Attorney General James’ deal with the online travel company, Farreportal is required to pay $2.6 million to the state and display accurate, real-time information to consumers.

“Consumers wanted to get affordable tickets through Farereportal platforms, but instead encountered lies,” said Attorney General James. “Fareportal has used deeply deceptive tactics to trick millions of consumers into booking airline tickets and hotel rooms. As a result of this dishonest and predatory behavior, Fareportal will pay the state $2.6 million , will correct its dishonest advertising and share accurate information with customers in real time. We will not tolerate attempts to deceive consumers and will continue to protect every penny that belongs to New Yorkers.”

Attorney General James’ investigation into New York-based Fareportal found that since at least 2017 the company has used a number of deceptive tactics to create a false sense of urgency and social pressure to customers to book plane tickets or hotel rooms. , whether or not Fareportal offers the best price for tickets or hotel rooms. Farreportal has used manipulation tactics, known as dark schemes, which are designed to trick online consumers into making purchases or decisions that appear to be in their best interests but in fact are not.

For example, Fareportal falsely displayed to consumers searching for flights that there were only a handful of tickets left for the most popular flight options. These fake messages were keyed to consumer research. A consumer looking for one ticket would see a message saying “Only 2 tickets left” on the most popular flights, while a consumer looking for two tickets would see a message saying “Only 3 tickets left”.

Fareportal used similar tactics on consumers seeking to book hotel rooms, misrepresenting the percentage of hotel rooms in a particular area that had already been booked. These fake posts were also related to consumer research. A consumer looking for hotel rooms 16-30 days before check-in was told that 41-70% of hotel rooms had already been booked, while a consumer looking for hotel rooms 7-15 days before check-in was told that 71% to 80% of the rooms had already been booked.

3.16.2022 Farreportal pic2

Fareportal also fabricated information related to the popularity of certain products, including the number of consumers who purchased travel insurance, the number of consumers who upgraded their seats, and the number of consumers currently viewing certain flight and hotel listings, using computer generated data. random numbers instead of accurate real-time data.

The investigation also revealed misleading use of countdown timers, misleading information about service charges added to the price of airfares, and misleading statements about cancellation policy made within 24 hours of booking. Fareportal also used fictitious prices in alleged markdowns for airline tickets. All of the conduct was designed to increase the percentage of visitors to Fareportal’s platforms who would make a purchase.

This agreement obligates Fareportal to pay $2.6 million in reimbursement and costs. Furthermore, Fareportal is required to ensure that all messages relating to the offer or popularity of travel-related products and services are based on accurate data or information. Further, Fareportal is responsible for ensuring that all comparison prices used to promote discounted prices for airline tickets are the prices at which the tickets listed were actually offered to consumers. The agreement also requires Fareportal to accurately disclose its service fees and cancellation policy.

This case was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Marc Montgomery and Hanna Baek and Senior Law Enforcement Counsel Jordan Adler of the Office of Internet and Technology, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Kim A. Berger and Deputy Bureau Chief Clark P. Russell. The Office of Internet and Technology is part of the Economic Justice Division, which is overseen by Chief Deputy Attorney General Chris D’Angelo and Senior Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.