Expedia deflects antitrust case at German court as hotels’ complaint rejected

20 March 2017 1:17pm

20 February 2017. By Matthew Newman.

Expedia has scored a victory at a German court, after a hotel complained that it had been unfairly displayed on the online booking company's website.

The Rheinhotel Dreesen, near Bonn, had filed a lawsuit at the Cologne Regional Court, complaining that it was harmed when Expedia lowered its ranking and didn't display any pictures or reviews of the hotel.

The historical hotel along the Rhine River claimed that the "dimmed" display was in retaliation for its refusal to abide by Expedia's request that it offer the same price for its rooms as it offers to other online booking sites.

But the German court dismissed the case last week, MLex has learned.

The decision comes as national competition authorities have taken divergent positions on whether online booking platforms' "best price" clauses with hotels violate EU and national antitrust rules. The heads of national authorities met last week in Brussels to discuss a report on whether banning such practices has helped improve competition.

Germany's antitrust authority has ruled against Booking.com and HRS for obliging hotels to offer the same price on rival platforms. The agency is also investigating Expedia, but hasn't reached a decision.

The German Hotel Association, along with its member Rheinhotel Dreesen, complained that Expedia was punishing the hotel for noncompliance with the best-price clause. The association claimed that a series of e-mails from Expedia amounted to an agreement between the portal and hotels.

But the Cologne court ruled that the e-mails didn't amount to an agreement because Rheinhotel Dreesen was free to set the price for its hotel rooms below what was offered on Expedia.

Expedia was also free to give the hotel a lower ranking because its price on Expedia was higher than on rival portals.

At a hearing in December, judges said that even if there was an agreement between Expedia and the hotels, it would be exempt under EU antitrust rules because Expedia's market share in Germany is less than 30 percent — the threshold for giving companies' agreements exemption from antitrust enforcement.

The German Hotel Association had no immediate comment about the ruling, which hasn't been made public.

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