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by Michael J. Shapiro | August 22, 2012

The Seattle law firm Hagens Berman filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in California, alleging that several hotel companies and online travel agencies agreed to fix prices on hotel rooms across the country. Named in the suit were Hilton Hotels, Sheraton Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, and Marriott International, along with Expedia, Travelocity and Booking.com (a subsidiary of Priceline). The class-action suit, filed on behalf of two customers of online booking services, claims that the agreements among the hoteliers and online travel agencies caused consumers to overpay for their room reservations. "The large online travel sites, working with hotel chains, have created the illusion that savvy customers can spend time researching hotel rates online to find good deals," said Hagens Berman managing partner Steve Berman in a statement. "The reality is that these illegal price-parity agreements mean consumers see nothing but cosmetic differences and the same prices on every site." According to the complaint, the online travel agencies and hotels have signed illegal agreements that rooms may not be sold below agreed-upon rates to third-party companies. If the suit is successful, the hotels and travel sites would have to pay unspecified damages and legal fees, and they would be prevented from further price fixing. On July 31, the U.K.'s Office of Fair Trading issued a similar complaint against the InterContinental Hotel Group, Expedia and Booking.com.