An internet booking portal may oblige hotel operators not to offer hotel rooms on their own website at a lower price than on the portal page. In this particular case, it was a matter of Booking.com. As usual, the portal operator’s commission claim arises when the customer books via the hotel portal – and not directly with the hotel.
However, the previous practice of generally obliging hotels to offer the most favourable conditions on the portal was contrary to antitrust law. This was already decided by the 1st Cartel Senate of the Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf under the chairmanship of Prof. Dr. Kühnen on 9 January 2015. Such broad best-price clauses have since ceased to be used by hotel booking portals.
The operators then modified their practice and only obliged the hotels to offer their rooms on their own websites no more cheaply than at Booking.com. But the Federal Cartel Office also prohibited such “narrow” best-price clauses. They have therefore not been used since February 2016.
However, the 1st Cartel Senate of the Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf has now ruled that the modified best price clauses are permissible and may be used. The clauses are not restrictive of competition, but necessary to ensure a fair and balanced exchange of services between the portal operators and the contracted hotels. The booking portal may use such clauses to take precautions against an illoyally diversion of customer bookings and prevent customers who have chosen the hotel in question from using the hotel portal page from lower room rates. or better contractual conditions can be redirected from the booking page of the portal operator to the hotel page.
The Senate has not allowed a legal appeal. Its decision can therefore only be challenged under strict conditions of paragraph 74(4) of the GWB.
The General Court’s reasoning is likely to apply to all other digital marketplaces and the review of its own TERMS and conditions is economically worthwhile.