Expedia and several major hotel chains were already facing two federal lawsuits alleging that they conspired to suppress competition in online travel booking. Now they’re also being investigated by Utah’s attorney general.
The office is investigating whether Expedia conspired with Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Caesar’s, Wyndham and Choice Hotels to manipulate search advertising on Google, according to papers filed in state court in Utah last week. Other states have joined the investigation, the office said in the filing.
The allegations were raised in a lawsuit filed in December by TravelPass Group, a Utah-based company that sells hotel room inventory through Google search ads. It accuses the hotel chains and Expedia of restricting competition to buy those ads and reducing consumer choice.
TravelPass claims searches for hotels used to generate an open bidding process where companies could bid on keywords that included their own brand, as well as those of their competitors, as per Bloomberg. For example, a search for “Hilton in Boston,” became an opportunity for any lodgings or travel company to market to someone searching for a hotel room.
Then things changed, TravelPass said in its lawsuit. Beginning in 2014, the hotel companies agreed to stop bidding on one another’s brand names in Google searches in order to avoid price competition. A Google representative told TravelPass last year that the hotel companies had routinely bid on one another’s brands and then abruptly stopped, according to the lawsuit. This means that the traveler who searched online for “Hilton in Boston” would not be shown advertising for competing hotels. The allegations are also the subject of a 2018 class-action lawsuit in Illinois. Both cases are pending.