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In March 2022, the New York Attorney General announced that Fareportal had agreed to pay $2.6 million to end an investigation over its use of what is sometimes termed “dark patterns” to manipulate consumers into booking flights and hotel accommodations.
According to the AG, Fareportal created a “false sense of urgency and social pressure” to deceive consumers into making decisions. For example, Fareportal would display that only a few flights were available, when that was not true. A consumer searching for one ticket would see a message stating “Only 2 tickets left” for certain flights, while a consumer searching for two tickets would see a message stating “Only 3 tickets left.” The industry press reported the following example:
The Attorney General alleged that Fareportal used similar tactics when consumers searched for hotel accommodations. For example, a consumer searching for hotel rooms 16 to 30 days before check-in was told that 41 – 70% of hotel rooms had already been reserved, while a consumer searching for hotel rooms 7 to 15 days before check-in was told that 71 – 80% percent of rooms had already been reserved. These percentages were fictitious.
The Attorney General also alleged that Fareportal fabricated information related to the popularity of certain products or services – such as the number of consumers that had purchased insurance, upgraded seats, or were viewing certain listings – and that the company used misleading countdown timers to get consumers to act quickly. Also, Fareportal allegedly used fictitious prices when advertising purported discounts on airline tickets.
As part of its settlement, Fareportal is required to make significant changes to its marketing practices and to pay $2.6 million in disgorgement and costs.
It is common to see messages on retail sites stating how a sale will last, how many products are left, how many consumers have a certain product in their cart, or how many consumers are viewing that product. Those representations have to be accurate.