Entertainment

Taylor Swift fan had concert tickets and a place to stay. Then Booking.com pulled the rug out from under her

A Taylor Swift fan says she’s got “bad blood” with Booking.com after the travel booking giant left her with no accommodations for the pop star’s upcoming concert in Toronto.

“I was kind of freaking out,” Sarah Fournier told Go Public after the accommodations she’d secured early, and at a good price, for the dates around the concert were cancelled — and then at least one of them was relisted at a higher price.

“I just knew something was not right,” she said. 

After cancelling her reservations, Booking.com refused to help Fournier find a similar place at a similar price.

A legal expert in technology says her experience shows consumers can’t trust that what they book on travel sites is locked in — and that they’ll actually get what’s being offered.

“Often consumers believe that the platforms, in this case like Booking.com, have their back,” said Jonathan Penney, a law professor at York University who researches legal and ethical impacts of technology.

“[Instead] they’ve wiped their hands of it. Walk away and say ‘you’re on your own’. That’s a real problem,” he said, referring to Fournier’s situation. 

Booking.com was the most visited travel website in the world last month, with 556 million visits, far ahead of Trip Advisor, Airbnb and Expedia, according to Statista.com. 

One of two accommodation bookings that were cancelled months apart, leaving Fournier and her friends with no place to stay during the Toronto concert. (Submitted by Sarah Fournier)

Prices were up to 8x higher 

When the mega music star announced she was coming to Toronto last August, Fournier immediately started making plans with her brother and friends to travel from Montreal for the November 2024 show.

The concert was more than a year away at that point, and Fournier had no idea if she’d score hard-to-get concert tickets — but she knew accommodations would be in high demand, too.

“My first thought was to go to Booking.com,” the 22-year-old said. 

At the beginning of August, she secured the two vacation rentals on Booking.com for her group of four to stay in Toronto from Nov. 21-24. She paid about $1,100 and $1,500 for the three nights. 

Soon after, they scored the concert tickets.

Just when Fournier thought everything was set, Booking.com pulled the rug out from under her — emailing her to say her reservations had been cancelled.

By then, prices and demand had skyrocketed and the site was listing similar properties for between $3,000 and $8,000 — almost eight times higher than when she booked.

A screengrab of Toronto on Google maps with multiple blue tags showing sky high prices for overnight accommodations.
Fournier says the only help Booking.com offered after her reservations were cancelled was a link to alternate accommodations that were much more expensive. (Submitted By Sarah Fournier)

In an email, Booking.com told Go Public it doesn’t set the prices, which are “determined by our accommodation partners.” The company also wouldn’t say how much money it makes from reservations on its site.

Booking.com said what happened to Fournier is “extremely rare,” and apologized that her “experience was not as seamless as usual given the situation.”

Mixed messages

When Fournier tried to find out why her bookings were cancelled, she got mixed messages, with Booking.com and the properties blaming each other. 

The online travel booking company told her the reservations were cancelled because the properties were “not operating” anymore.

But when Fournier called the properties directly, she got different answers.

One of them, Downtown Suites, said her booking was cancelled because of a “glitch” on Booking.com’s end. That property told Fournier she could rebook the same place directly through them — but when they repeatedly asked for more money upfront than she’d agreed to, she says she decided against it. 

Fournier called the other property, Guestic Front Street, and recorded the conversation. 

In the recording, which Fournier provided to Go Public, a company representative admitted that property had been relisted at a higher price after her reservation was cancelled.

LISTEN | Customer calls rental company over cancellation: 

CBC News14:10:00Property company admits relisting cancelled rental for more money

Customer Sarah Fournier got a surprise admission from property rental company Guestic Front Street when she called them to ask why the accommodations she booked for a Taylor Swift concert in Toronto were cancelled.

“You don’t see an issue with that?” Fournier asked the company representative.

“Absolutely not,” said the representative. “Our goal in business is to maximize profit.” 

Guestic told Fournier hers was one of about 60 reservations that were cancelled. It later told Go Public that Guestic is now operating under a different name, but refused to say what that is and on which websites its properties are listed. 

Despite what Fournier was told, a spokesperson for Booking.com later told Go Public the company removed both of the properties Fournier booked from the site for failing to meet its terms and conditions. It wouldn’t say which specific terms and conditions weren’t met.

Too little, too late: expert 

When Fournier asked Booking.com for help securing similar accommodations at a reasonable price, the company only sent her a link to similar listings that were much more expensive and further from the concert venue.

The company also says it is “constantly innovating and enhancing” its security protocols to help ensure the more than 29 million listings on its site are in “compliance with local laws and requirements.”

WATCH | What to know when booking travel online: 

Expert urges caution when booking travel online

York University law professor Jonathan Penney explains why consumers need to do their homework before booking travel online.

Legal expert Penney says whatever action Booking.com took was “far too late.”

“They should be doing robust investigations … early on before [properties] are ever allowed onto the site,” he said. 

Booking.com tells Go Public it has “several measures in place for the review of listings,” but only once they’re already on the site.

Its Terms of Service repeatedly state it is not responsible for fixing problems — that it’s up to the customer to deal with the properties that list on its site. 

A screenshot of a clause of booking.com's terms of service reads says the company doesn't take responsibility for the travel experience.
An excerpt from Booking.com’s terms of service, one of several examples of where the company says it is not responsible for problems with the ‘travel experience.’ (Graphic by Wendy Martinez)

But Penney says even though Booking.com makes “no promises about the services that they’re providing,” under Ontario and Quebec consumer protection laws, the company could still be responsible when things go wrong. 

By “acting as agents” for the properties on its site, Penney said Booking.com has a legal responsibility to make sure customers get what’s being promised. 

“There are legal protections for representations that are false, misleading or deceptive that induce consumers into transactions,” he said.

It’s not clear whether those requirements were breached in Fournier’s case.

After her concert stays were cancelled, Fournier says she “had a bit of a breakdown” knowing she couldn’t afford to pay the much higher rates.

But then a family friend offered up his place for the group to stay during the Taylor Swift concert dates. 

Fournier says it will be tight and some of the group will have to sleep on the floor, but she says she’s grateful to have a place that won’t cancel.

As for Booking.com, Fournier says (in true Swiftie style) they are “never ever getting back together.” 

“They’ve lost a lot of credibility for my circle of friends, my family,” she said. “I doubt many of them are going to use Booking.com anymore.” 

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