Expedia, Airbnb and Booking Comply With California Junk Fee Law — But in Different Ways

Skift Take

Now you know why online travel companies do so much A/B testing. The whole world seems to depend on whether a price disclosure is in a bold or light font. Fee transparency is being put to its own test in California.

The Big Three travel booking sites — Booking.com, Airbnb, and Expedia/Vrbo — all appear to be complying with California’s new junk fee transparency law. But they way they are doing it varies considerably.

The new law, which became effective this week, requires travel sellers and others to display the total price, including mandatory fees, upfront. They don’t have to show taxes on first view.

However, Expedia.com is displaying the total cost upfront in bold, including fees and taxes, for hotels.

Expedia hotel cali cali

Source: Expedia.com

Airbnb, Booking.com and Vrbo do not show the total rate and fees upfront, including taxes.

Asked why Expedia.com shows the total cost for hotels but not for Vrbo’s short-term rentals, an Expedia Group spokesperson said: “Regarding Vrbo, we are following an approach consistent across the industry, which allows travelers to make fair price comparisons when shopping across competing platforms.” 

Airbnb’s ‘Total’ Price

As shown in the accompanying image, Airbnb shows guests in California the nightly rate plus all fees, excluding taxes.

Airbnb LA from PR
Source: Airbnb

Californians View a Variation of Total Price On All Listings Outside of California

Both Expedia and Airbnb are applying their policies for California-based travelers even if they aren’t in California.

This highlights how the California junk fee law impacts how Californians can now view more transparent pricing for Expedia, Booking.com, and Airbnb listings throughout the world — and not just for properties within California’s borders.

Non-Californians who want to book an Airbnb in another state or other countries that don’t mandate total price displays can use Airbnb’s toggle feature to view the nightly rate plus all fees, excluding taxes, or merely the nightly rate.

Vrbo’s Approach for Californians Is Similar to Airbnb’s

Like Airbnb, Vrbo shows California-based shoppers — whether they are trying to book inside California or outside — the nightly rate including fees, but excluding taxes. It’s in bold and upfront when they view listings. The total rate, minus taxes, is in a lighter font. You can see it in the following screenshot.

Vrbo bold no taxes
Source: Vrbo

The way Vrbo displays upfront listings outside of California, when viewed by people outside the state, is subtly different. In this case, as seen below, Vrbo bolds the nightly rate, but it doesn’t include fees. And the nightly rate plus fees — but excluding taxes — is there in a smaller light font, as seen below for a Miami listing.

Vrbo Miami nightly bold total minus taxes light
Source: Vrbo

The Booking.com Irony

In California and for California-based shoppers elsewhere, for both hotels and short-term rentals, Booking.com displays upfront the nightly rate, including fees, but excluding taxes.

Vrbo provides a better explanation than Airbnb and Booking.com, letting travelers know in each listing that the rate in bold includes fees.

booking cal aa bold total b4 taxes 1
Source: Booking.com

For hotels and short-term rentals outside of California when viewed by travelers based elsewhere, Booking.com displays up-front nightly rates in bold for both hotels and short-term rentals, and in a light font states “+$20 taxes and fees,” for example.

Booking better explainer
Source: Booking.com

One can make the argument — ironically — that Booking.com is in one respect more transparent upfront about the total price for hotels and short-term rentals outside of California for people based outside of the state than it is for California-based shoppers.

Granted, though, Booking.com delivers that transparency in a light font that some travelers might not notice.

That’s because in California, Booking.com highlights in bold the nightly rate, including fees but excluding taxes. However, anywhere other than California, for people based out of state, while Booking.com merely bolds the nightly rate, excluding fees and taxes, it explains within the listing in a light font how much the additional taxes and fees will be.

Airbnb and Vrbo both have pop-up messages explaining to Californians or people outside the state looking to stay in the Golden State, what their new pricing shows.

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