Online travel giant Booking.com faces antitrust probe in Spain

Booking.com

More tech antitrust activity: Spain’s competition watchdog has opened an investigation into potential anti-competitive behavior by the Dutch online travel agency giant, Booking.com, following a couple of complaints lodged by the Spanish Association of Hotel Managers and the Regional Hotel Association of Madrid.

The national competition regulator said today that it will look into whether certain practices by Booking.com constitute an abuse of a dominant position in the provision of intermediation services to hotels — and therefore whether it is imposing unfair trading conditions on hotels located in Spain and imposing commercial policies that may have exclusionary effects on other online travel agencies and online sales channels.

The Comisión Nacional de Los Mercados y La Competencia (CNMC) also said it will investigate whether Booking.com’s conduct includes practices that constitute an exploitation of a position of economic dependency of hotels in Spain — and, therefore, amounts to “unfair competition acts affecting public interest due to the distortion of free competition they have produced”, as its press release puts it.

“After reviewing the complaints received and information gathered under the preliminary investigation, the Competition Directorate of the CNMC considers that there are grounds to support the possibility that Booking.com B.V. may have breached articles 2 and 3 of the SCA [Spanish Competition Act] and article 102 of the TFEU [Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union],” the CNMC added.

Booking.com was contacted for comment. Update:  The company has now sent this statement:

“We have and will continue to partner with the CNMC on their questions regarding Booking.com Spain. Booking.com has always and will continue to work collaboratively with our accommodation partners in the travel ecosystem, which has only recently seen signs of recovery as we enter a further uncertain future with the global economic environment.  We continue to work tirelessly to secure and deliver much needed demand for our accommodation partners, helping them fill their rooms every day.”

The Spanish watchdog has up to 18 months to conduct its investigation and reach a final decision. It also noted that the opening of formal proceedings does not prejudge the final result.

The market power of Booking.com, a veteran of the first wave of Internet startups, in the travel space has long been a cause concern for European Union lawmakers — apparently helping to compel a recent reboot to the bloc’s antitrust regime which is due to kick off next year.

Booking.com is a likely contender for being designated as a gatekeeper under this pan-EU Digital Markets Act (DMA) — which would trigger an ex ante regulation of its core platform service, requiring compliance with a set of up-front operational measures and conditions across its regional operations which are aimed at ensuring fair dealing with other businesses that rely on the platform to reach their own customers.

However the DMA is unlikely to immediately speed into action next year as the process of designating gatekeepers will take several (or even many) months as the Commission steps up to fulfil a new role regulating Big Tech.

That means that, in the meanwhile, national competition probes — such as the one announced today by Spain’s CNMC — have to fill the gap. In this case by relying on established (slower) competition regulation tools which typically require a robust investigation of a complaint prior to any intervention — a process that can take years for any necessary corrective orders to be made.

EU’s new rules for Big Tech will come into force in Spring 2023, says Vestager

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Regulatory Scrutiny of Online Travel Platforms Could Shed New Light on Business Practices

Dennis Schaal , Skift

January 29th, 2020 at 2:00 AM EST

Online travel companies have faced intense regulatory scrutiny almost since the first days of internet bookings. But "you've got mail" these days is less likely to be a cheery email notification than a demand for court appearances and audits.

Whether it’s online travel companies like Trivago, Booking.com, or Airbnb, regulators around the world are lashing out at the business models of these companies and their competitors.

In two recent examples, the Australian Competition Commission disclosed that the country’s federal court found that Germany’s hotel-price comparison business Trivago was displaying hotel rates from the highest bidders in its auctions, and often hiding cheaper rates behind a “more deals from” list in violation of competition law. The court also took issue with the strike-through prices that inflated the discount consumers would receive.

In the UK, starting in September, sister companies Booking.com, Agoda, and Kayak, as well as some competitors, agreed to take certain steps to settle some of the competition authority’s investigations over “pressure selling,” which includes messaging on Booking.com’s hotel pages such as “2 other people looked for your dates in the last 10 minutes.”

The Australia Trivago case, which got under way in 2018, puts into focus the practices of numerous metasearch sites around the world. Like Trivago, Google’s hotels feature, for example, has hidden cheaper rates  while sometimes placing higher ones in coveted positions on the first screen of a listing.

In metasearch auctions, online travel agencies and hotels bid for positions within a listing. The ranking, whether the bidder is listed first, third, or relegated to a secondary page, can have a huge impact on whether consumers click, and eventually make a hotel booking.

As regulators have pointed out, metasearch companies — and online travel agencies — have been less than forthcoming about precisely how they rank listings, and sort bidders within listings.

This new scrutiny may reveal more of that process.

Messaging on Trivago now explains how payments from online travel agency and hotel advertisers impact placement within listings, although it’s still vague: “The ranking results reflect your search criteria and our assessment of the attractiveness of the offer compared to other offers available on our site. It also reflects the compensation paid by the booking site.”

Why did Australian authorities go after Trivago in particular?

“We brought this case because we consider that Trivago’s conduct was particularly egregious,” said Australian Competition Commission chair Rod Sims in a statement. “Many consumers may have been tricked by these price displays into thinking they were getting great discounts. In fact, Trivago wasn’t comparing apples with apples when it came to room type for these room rate comparisons.”

The court has not yet meted out penalties to Trivago. In a statement, Trivago said:

“The judgment received from the court provides new guidance on how results of comparator websites, like Trivago and others, should be displayed in Australia. Trivago will closely review the decision. We are working to quickly understand the implications of this decision on our website design and its overall impact on the Australian travel industry and the way websites are to be designed in Australia. We will continue helping millions of Australians research and find great accommodation deals and look forward to continuing to help our customers find their ideal hotel.”

In the UK case against Booking Holdings and other online travel sellers, the online travel company agreed to show “prices inclusive of all mandatory taxes and charges, providing information about the effect of money earned on search result rankings on or before the search results page and making certain adjustments to how discounts and statements concerning popularity or availability are shown to consumers.”

The agreement, according to Booking Holdings, applies to all players in UK online travel; there was no admission of wrongdoing.

What UK authorities termed pressure selling has been a staple of Booking.com messaging — and it was adapted by rivals around the world — for more than a decade. It is one of the tricks in the company’s arsenal to spur indecisive travelers to book a room. In its test and learn environment, Booking.com tested these sorts of messages on its websites, and some of them obviously worked.

On the short-term rental front, Airbnb, Expedia, and Booking.com, among many others, have faced opposition of regulators around the world, although they have lately been making headway in various jurisdictions. Of course it isn’t just regulators who are part of the action. In Jersey City, New Jersey in the U.S. recently, voters opted to adopt tougher regulation of Airbnb .

Nothing New?

The scrutiny has been intense over the last 20 years as online travel companies find themselves subject to regulatory glare, at both local, country, state, and national levels whether it’s in short-term rentals, occupancy tax bills, or antitrust matters.

In Europe, Booking.com, Expedia Group, and HRS have been under pressure to modify rate parity agreements. They traditionally meant that if Accor gave LastMinute.com a $120 net rate for a property and guaranteed a certain degree of availability, then Booking.com would require the hotel to at least provide the online travel company with the same deal, not worse. That paradigm in some jurisdictions has loosened up.

Similar rate parity probes have been launched in countries such as Australia and Brazil, for example.

On other fronts, Swiss authorities are currently engaged in a probe of Booking.com’s commission levels, and Turkish authorities are challenging the company’s efforts to sell Turkish accommodations to the country’s residents.

Among other tax issues in Europe, in July France leveled a 3 percent digital services tax against online players that is retroactive to January 1, 2019. Booking Holdings, for example, said its liability was $29 million for the first nine months of last year.

Expedia Group is facing various probes in Europe over its VAT (value-added tax) responsibilities.

In the United States, online travel agencies, including Expedia, Hotels.com, Priceline, and many others, have been fighting hotel tax liability lawsuits for more than 15 years.  In general, cities, counties, and states have claimed that the online travel agencies were illegally remitting taxes on the net rates they received from hotels under the merchant model instead of the full retail rate they charged consumers. The online travel agencies countered that most of the tax laws in questions applied to hotel operators, not the intermediaries.

In November, Expedia Group tallied that cities, counties and states had filed 101 lawsuits against it since 2004, and 11 were still active. Forty-seven of these lawsuits were dismissed. Of these, some allowed the plaintiffs to pursue administrative remedies while 33 were thrown out because courts ruled that the defendants were not subject to the tax, or the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue. As of September 30, Expedia Group had a reserve of $66 million for potential settlements of occupancy tax litigation, audits, and other tax-related issues.

To date, online travel companies have been able to cope with regulatory decisions to various degrees. If in 2004, when the City of Los Angeles sued Expedia, Travelocity, and Priceline over hotel occupancy taxes, and it appeared that the essence  of their merchant model hotel business was under duress as other cities did likewise, it didn’t turn out that way at all.

Airbnb may be reeling from near-bans in places like New York City, which was once among its largest markets, but it is expanding elsewhere and launching new business segments.

As with the new digital services tax in France, the question becomes how much hurt will online travel companies be able to cope with in the name of consumer and governmental protections — which are many times justified — and when will these rulings bring some of the companies to their knees.

Update: This story has been updated to include a comment from Trivago about the Australia court ruling.”

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: airbnb , antitrust , booking.com , competition , expedia , online travel , regulations , trivago

Photo credit: trivago Campus 2018: Facade with Hotel Search Logo The facade and logo outside Trivago An Australia court chastised Trivago about the way it displays hotel discounts. Pictured is Trivago Germany headquarters as seen in 2018. Trivago

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Online Travel Agencies See Steady Uptick in Lawsuits

OTAs, or online travel agencies, offer travel services in the web-based marketplace, and are playing an increasingly large role in the marketing, distribution, and selling of travel. In step with the online travel industry’s growth is a steady uptick in court filings in the last ten years. This article explores where cases are being filed and why. In addition, it spotlights the world’s largest OTA, Booking Holdings, Inc., and what practices have landed it in hot water with European and American regulators recently.

OTA Industry Overview For a commission, OTAs offer a range of services like flight, hotel, cruise, rental car, and tour bookings as well as travel and holiday packages. Their main sales channels are mobile websites and apps, both increasingly preferred mediums of travel bookings according to Allied Market Research . The biggest OTA names are household ones: Booking.com and Expedia.com, for example. Though the COVID-19 pandemic hampered the industry, its future looks bright, thanks in part to the quickness and ease of booking online and increasing customer trust in online payment. Allied Market Research further reported that the global online travel market is expected to reach $1,835.6 billion by 2031 up from its $354.2 billion valuation in 2020.

In addition to its projected growth, another notable aspect of the OTA industry is its consolidation. Booking Holdings owns Booking.com, Priceline, Agoda, Rentalcars.com, and KAYAK, as well as a network of subsidiary brands including Rocketmiles, Fareharbor, HotelsCombined, Cheapflights and Momondo. Expedia Group owns Expedia, Trivago, Hotels.com, Orbitz, Hotwire, Travelocity, CheapTickets, Ebookers, and Vrbo. Airbnb owns HotelTonight.

In September 2023, of the world’s top “online travel companies,” and according to  CompaniesMarketcap.com , two were well above the rest, with significant separation between number one Booking and number two Airbnb. Entrants from the rest of the world were also depicted as major market players.

online travel agencies antitrust

Litigation Filings Trend Upwards, Intellectual Property Registrations Downwards

The last ten years have seen a steady increase in filings involving American OTAs, with the last three months being 26% busier than average. Digging deeper, Docket Alarm Analytics show that the majority of filings are with the nation’s patent and trademark processing bodies. However, trademark filings and to a slightly lesser extent, patent registrations, have tracked downwards likely due to their once-off nature.

In terms of litigation, California courts figure significantly into the picture. A closer look at dockets from Los Angeles and San Francisco counties shows that the majority of pleadings concern premises liability, personal injury, and property damage claims.

The concentration of California lawsuits by guests and property owners is perhaps unsurprising given that the most populous state also leads the nation in hotels and motel businesses. Per a 2023 IBISWorld industry report , California has the most with 15,557 registered businesses, while  Texas has 14,733 and Florida 9,410. Data from AirDNA , repackaged by Statista , shows the most popular U.S. cities for Airbnb and HomeAway listings in June 2019. Florida is home to the most, trailed by California and New York.

online travel agencies antitrust

A look at state and federal courts where cases involving Airbnb have been filed shows that California still dominates, though one New York and one Illinois court make the top ten. Worth noting is Airbnb’s San Francisco, Calif. headquarters.

Booking Holdings Makes Recent Antitrust, Consumer Protection Headlines

The last week of September, the European Union’s antitrust watchdog denied Booking’s bid to purchase Swedish OTA ETraveli Group for $1.7 billion. The European Commission blocked the deal , citing risks that the transaction would further entrench Booking’s already dominant position in the hotel OTA market, leading to higher costs for hotels and possibly for consumers.

For its part, Booking responded that it would appeal the decision. “The Company strongly believes the Commission is wrong on both the facts of the case and the law applicable to this transaction, which was cleared unconditionally by multiple competition authorities, including the UK Competition & Markets Authority and U.S. FTC,” its press release said.

In August, Texas sued Booking for allegedly marketing hotel rooms at prices that were advertised as lower than actually available. The Texas state court complaint alleged that Booking also duped consumers by obscuring fees buried in the “taxes and fees” line item at checkout.

The Attorney General said the company’s actions not only mislead consumers but also disadvantage competing websites who transparently advertise prices.

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Online Bookings: Competition Law Impacts Online Travel Agencies (OTAs)… A European Perspective

Contributor.

Mayer Brown weblink

Online travel agencies (OTAs) which greatly helped maintain occupancy rates during the difficult years in the 1990s have been accused of exploiting their position of strength in a manner that contravenes the rules of fair competition.

Following a number of actions and investigations in the UK (Med Hotels, Skoosh, IHG), class actions in California and other states in the US, a Bundeskartellamt investigation in Germany and investigations pending in Austria, Switzerland and Hungary, the European Commission has designated France, Sweden and Italy as chef de file (in other words, to provide the precedent for the rest of the EU) in an attempt to establish a harmonised EU approach.

In France, a complaint had been made against Booking.com (Booking) by a number of hotels and trade associations.

The French Competition Authority found that:

  • Booking proposed an online lodging reservation service where the lodging operator (hotel, apartment, etc) offers rooms for rental whereby visitors to the Booking website can make their reservations directly on Booking.
  • There are three principal methods of selling hotel rooms i.e., those sold (i) individually or (ii) as part of a package including transport, car hire, etc., or (iii) through arrangements with companies where preferential corporate rates are negotiated.
  • With regard to the sale of isolated room nights, these can be sold either directly by the hotel, on- or-offline, or through online agents (i.e., OTAs who specialize in hotel reservations or generalists who offer other travel services alongside which they also commercialize room-nights). Booking, Hotels.com and Venere.com are categorized as reservation platforms (PRH), i.e., specialists in hotel reservations, whereas entities such as Expedia are considered to be general travel agents.
  • It is the PRH that has a direct relationship with the hotel operators who make available to these OTAs the number of available room nights which are then advertised through a variety of internet portals, including those of the general travel agents. The room nights distributed by the PRH are generally sold in isolation, while the other OTAs can sell the room nights as part of pre-assembled packages.
  • More than 90 percent of potential clients consult an online service, although for the time being, the majority of reservations are still made offline. The OTAs represented approximately 70 percent of online reservations made between 2011 and 2015, and about 24 percent of gross revenue of hotels, all of which pay commissions to the OTAs equivalent to, or less than, 5 percent of their total gross revenue.
  • The importance of the OTAs is not simply the reservation itself. The public uses their services to find hotels and for price comparison. It is, therefore, essential for the hotels to be represented on the OTAs' websites, thus assuring visibility to the public. The commission charges by the PRH are between 10 percent and 30 percent of the retail price including VAT. In certain cases, if a hotel wishes to achieve a better placement on the site, the commission can exceed 30 percent.
  • Booking, as well as the majority of the OTAs who have a direct link with the hotels, only act as an intermediary between the hotels and guests. Booking does not buy or sell room nights. Guests do not pay a commission or other remuneration as they pay the hotelier directly. The hotelier transfers the commission to Booking once payment for the stay has been made. This is in contrast with tour operators who buy room nights from hoteliers after which they sell them to customers at prices determined by the tour operators. Accordingly, the intermediary model permits the hoteliers to control the price of the room nights. This is necessary for proper yield management, and also because it is the hotel that will be at risk as far as empty rooms are concerned.
  • In the general scheme of things, the OTAs rank below search engines. Below them sit the specialist hotel pricing comparison services such as Trivago, TripAdvisor and Kayak. In particular, the PRH are by far the most important clients of the price comparison services. They are remunerated by a fixed payment per click for each visit to their website.
  • Generally, it is only the largest hotel chains that are direct clients of search engines and price comparators, while other hotels can appear on these two platforms via the OTAs which reference them on their sites.
  • Accordingly, the OTAs who have a direct link with the hotels are placed at the heart of the business of the sale of room nights.
  • This inevitably gave rise to complaints concerning certain practices, principally the parity clauses, excessive commission rates , appropriation of hotels' clients, clauses permitting suspension or unilateral termination, and clauses exempting responsibility.

Generally speaking, these parity clauses consist of an undertaking by the hotel to assure Booking the parity of its room rates and their availability. The room rate parity signifies equal, or more advantageous, prices for the same lodging on the same dates and for the same services. The parity being in respect of other websites or the lodging establishment's own applications, including its reservation system, as well as any other OTA or third party. The availability parity also covers the widest selection of competition and concentrates on the ability to dispose of available rooms.

Booking argued that, even if not specifically mentioned in their general conditions, price parity does not apply to group bookings or other arrangements that are not available online, where corporate rates have been agreed for particular companies. Booking's argument was that a parity clause protects the it from potential losses especially when visitors go to its website for price comparison but do not end up making their reservations on Booking, thus depriving it of a commission which it says is its only revenue.

The decisions in Sweden and Italy varied slightly from the one in France. In the two countries, Booking gave a commitment to (1) suppress completely the parity obligations towards other OTAs and (2) narrow the price parity obligations for hotels.

After looking at the rulings by the three National Competition Authorities, we can deduce that (i) parity clauses reduce competition between OTAs and (ii) they prevent competing offers from reducing commissions as they would not benefit the end customer. The other effect is that the price parity obligations deprive the hotelier of the possibility of recovering part of the commission that it would otherwise have to pay to Booking by lowering room rates on its own website.

As a result of the commitments made by Booking, the following rules are to apply in the European Union from July 2015:

  • Hotels can propose lower prices and offer more favourable conditions to other OTAs.
  • Similarly, these lower prices can be offered directly to customers offline (i.e., not published online or through an app).
  • Better availability of rooms for sale can be proposed to other OTAs and on the hotel's own website.
  • Booking cannot impose clauses to the contrary nor incentivise hotels to accept such contrary clauses.

Booking has announced that it will give the same commitments in Germany from 1st July 2015. The Competition Authorities will be seeking similar commitments from other OTAs (such as Expedia). with the intention of implementing them throughout the European Economic Area in order to achieve an industry- wide solution which all OTAs will comply.

Since then, however, two recent developments in France may have an effect on the status quo achieved by the Commission, namely:

  • The Economic Reform Law (Loi Macron), which has now been passed, includes a provision to the effect that price parity clauses are inoperative and;
  • Accor announced in June that, having acquired a small OTA, it plans to open it to independent non-Accor branded hotels.

It remains to be seen whether Booking will try to argue that its commitments to the Competition Authorities are now rendered invalid by the change in ground rules by the Loi Macron. It might also argue that independent hoteliers may be attracted by the reduced commission rate charged by the Accor site, and the fact that Accor brand franchisees have accepted the idea of competition with non-Accor branded properties on the same reservation system.

Originally published 7 October 2015

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Duff on Hospitality Law

First-time contributor and resident litigation expert, Don Scaramastra , has offered to update the status of the much discussed class-action involving online distributors and certain hotel operators, and to discuss antitrust laws related to online distribution. Thank you Don for this informative piece.

On December 11, 2012, the federal Panel on Multi-District Litigation ordered the consolidation of class-action lawsuits alleging that online travel agents and certain hotel chains conspired to impose a resale price maintenance scheme that fixed the retail price for hotel room reservations in violation of federal and state antitrust laws. The MDL Panel ordered these lawsuits to proceed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Since last summer, over 20 such lawsuits have been filed. This outcome appears to be good news for the defendants, all of whom advocated for the transfer and consolidation of these cases to that district.

You might be wondering what these lawsuits are all about, what “resale price maintenance” (or “RPM”) is, and what the antitrust laws have to say about it.

RPM is the practice in which a seller and buyer at one link in a distribution chain agree on the minimum price that the buyer may turn around and resell the product.

RPM has something of a storied history in antitrust law. Under federal antitrust laws, RPM was deemed unlawful just over a century ago. But in the 1930s, Congress enacted a partial “fair trade” exemption from liability. Four decades later, Congress repealed the exemption, returning RPM to its former illegal status. And finally, five years ago, in Leegin Creative Leather Products v. PSKS, Inc. , the Supreme Court declared that not all RPM agreements were illegal, only those that imposed an “unreasonable” restraint on trade. And that is where things stand today.

Confused yet? Well, wait … there’s more! RPM is a concern under most if not all state antitrust laws, and many states may reject the Supreme Court’s lead and maintain RPM’s per se illegality. A few states have already rejected Leegin, while enforcement authorities in others have loudly denounced the case and proclaimed their intent to pursue RPM as an automatic violation of the antitrust laws. (Many in federal law enforcement have announced their desire to repeal Leegin and Leegin- repealer legislation has been proposed in but not passed by Congress.) Meanwhile, it’s not as though the rest of the world marches to the beat of the same drum. The EU, for example, appears to no longer treat RPM as automatically or per se unlawful, but it seems to some to come awfully close. And the impact of all of these different legal standards is only exacerbated by the increasing ability of business to sell online to customers across borders.

And if this isn’t enough to leave you scratching your head, here’s more. Antitrust law gives greater scrutiny to agreements on price than to unilateral decisions regarding price. As a result, for nearly a century the Supreme Court has recognized that a seller and buyer may not agree on the minimum resale price the buyer may charge, but the seller may unilaterally refuse to sell to a buyer who resells below a minimum price. If you find it hard to see the difference between saying:

“John, you agree that if you sell our products below $X, we may terminate you,” 

“John, do whatever you want but if you sell our products below $X, we may terminate you,” 

you are not alone. Nonetheless, for nearly a century, antitrust law has seen a difference.

So now you have a little background on RPM, on where it is and where it has been. But where is it going? In Leegin the Supreme Court offered some hints, identifying situations where RPM might be unlawful even under its more permissive ruling. RPM might be used to enforce or organize an illegal cartel by the players at one level in the distribution chain (e.g., manufacturers), the Court noted, or it might be abused by a dominant player in the market.

What does any of this have to do with online travel agencies and hotel reservations? According to the plaintiffs, everything. Their complaints allege that major online travel agents (the plaintiffs name Expedia, Orbitz, Hotels.com, Travelocity, Booking.com, and Priceline.com) are (collectively) the “dominant” players with monopoly power in the market for direct online retail sales of hotel room reservations. The complaints allege that these online travel agents each offered “best price” guarantees to their own customers, effectively ensuring that each agent will charge the same price. Finally, they allege that the online travel agents induced major hotel chains to agree to restrict the ability of every online travel agent, including those not part of the scheme, to discount the price of hotel room reservations, which prevented online travel agents who were not part of the scheme from undercutting the prices of those who were. The result, the complaints allege, is that online travel agents stopped competing on price, which caused the price of online hotel reservations to rise over what they would have been in a competitive marketplace.

These cases are in their very early stages. The parties will likely be embroiled in preliminary procedural issues for many, many months to come, only after which will they begin to grapple with the lawsuits’ merits. Antitrust cases, particularly attempted class actions like these, are notoriously complex and costly for both sides. So even if the online travel agent cases were to resolve with an “early” dismissal by the Court, this “success” will come to the defendants at mind-boggling expense, with appeals almost sure to follow.

If you have questions about the pending OTA-related litigation or wish to receive more information on resale price maintenance, please contact me or Greg Duff .

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About the Editor

Greg Duff founded and chairs Foster Garvey’s national Hospitality, Travel & Tourism group. His practice largely focuses on operations-oriented matters faced by hospitality industry members, including sales and marketing, distribution and e-commerce, procurement and technology. Greg also serves as counsel and legal advisor to many of the hospitality industry’s associations and trade groups, including AH&LA, HFTP and HSMAI.

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  • Best for customer satisfaction
  • Best for older adults
  • Best for long-term care
  • Best for high returns
  • Best for agent support
  • Best for term life
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Best Life Insurance of June 2024

Affiliate links for the products on this page are from partners that compensate us (see our advertiser disclosure with our list of partners for more details). However, our opinions are our own. See how we rate insurance products to write unbiased product reviews.

Life insurance is as complicated as the policyholders and beneficiaries who use it. That means there's no single "best" life insurance company. Instead, you can find the best option based on what you want or what you prioritize.

Summary of the Best Life Insurance Companies

  • Best for customer satisfaction:   State Farm Life Insurance
  • Best for older adults:   Prudential Life Insurance
  • Best for agent support:   New York Life Insurance
  • Best for long-term care:   Columbus Life
  • Best for high returns:   Allianz Life
  • Best for term life:   North American Company

Best Life Insurance Companies of 2024

While there is no such thing as the objective best life insurance policy, you will be able to find the best insurance policy for your specific needs. Here are our picks for the best life insurance companies, whether you want to use your life insurance policy to build wealth through cash value or you're just looking for a term life insurance policy .

Best Life Insurance for Customer Satisfaction: State Farm Life Insurance

State Farm State Farm Life Insurance

Bundling is standard, and agents often quote with multiple discounts.

  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Best in JD Power customer service ratings
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Company offers a range of different insurance products to meet buyer needs
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Agents are knowledgeable about its products
  • con icon Two crossed lines that form an 'X'. Life insurance products are conservative and limited
  • con icon Two crossed lines that form an 'X'. Buyers may be subject to multi-year waiting periods before they qualify for full payouts on life insurance policies
  • con icon Two crossed lines that form an 'X'. State Farm agents cannot offer alternative options if State Farm is unable to bind a life insurance policy

State Farm is one of the insurance industry's most prominent insurers offering auto, home, and other insurance. Bundling is standard, and agents often quote with multiple discounts. Its term, universal, and whole life insurance products are no exception.

  • Life insurance products include term and permanent life
  • Ranks highly for customer satisfaction

State Farm Life Insurance gets the best life insurance ranking in J.D Power's Individual Life Insurance Study, with a score of 843/1,000. The company is also ranked A++ with AM Best for its financial stability with term, universal, and whole life insurance options. 

All State Farm policies have to be purchased through a State Farm agent. Your agent can help you bundle and save or buy one policy. State Farm is also among the companies offering "survivorship universal life insurance ," which means the policy covers two people, and it kicks in after the second person dies. Couples looking to maximize their death benefit for beneficiaries with one premium payment each month may enjoy lower overall costs.

State Farm agents can run quotes and compare options to find the right plans for each applicant. The range of options, discounts, and familiar name all contribute to the popularity of State Farm's life insurance.

Read our State Farm Life Insurance review here.

Best Life Insurance for Older Adults: Prudential VUL Protector Life Insurance

Prudential Prudential Life Insurance

Offers aggressive financial plans.

  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Available in all 50 states (New York residents may have different plans)
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Buyers can withdraw money to pay for nursing home bills due to severe illness or disability
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Knowledgeable agents who can walk you through your options
  • con icon Two crossed lines that form an 'X'. Financial returns are limited
  • con icon Two crossed lines that form an 'X'. Limited policy options for seniors and other groups who might struggle to find life insurance

The aggressive financial plans offered by Prudential may appeal to many younger buyers and those with a stable income. However, those with lower income or buyers who aren't sure about the financial system may be more hesitant to engage with Prudential. Like many other industry giants, Prudential is working to change this perception.

Prudential Life Insurance is available in all states except New York. New York residents can buy the Pruco Life of New Jersey VUL Protector plan. This plan allows buyers to pull money out of their plan to pay for nursing home expenses. Cash value policy premiums are fixed, so you won't have to worry about extra costs later on. Internal costs are low, which minimizes risk. Due to age, many older adults want a safe investment option for their money. Prudential VUL Protector invests to avoid loss. That also means you're not as likely to see big increases in your available funds outside of what you deposit.

Read our Prudential Life Insurance review here.

Best Life Insurance for Long-Term Care: Columbus Life Insurance

Columbus Columbus Life

Offers lien method to makes it easier to calculate the financial impact of pulling money out early.

  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Buyers can pull money out for medical and other bills in the event of disease or disability
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Columbus uses lien method to simplify accelerated death payments
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Company offers a wide range of riders to customize policies
  • con icon Two crossed lines that form an 'X'. Premiums may be higher than competitors
  • con icon Two crossed lines that form an 'X'. Term policies are not guaranteed to be converted to whole

Best for long-term care and accelerated death benefits.

Columbus Life offers a wide range of riders to customize your policy with affordable premiums. The company also allows you to convert term policies to whole life insurance policies until the end of your term (generally around age 70). For this and many other reasons, customer satisfaction is high.

When using living health benefits (otherwise known as accelerated death benefits), buyers are allowed to pull money from policies early to pay for medical bills, living costs, etc. under certain circumstances. Most companies use a discounted death benefit, which reduces your final payout using two models. Columbus uses the lien method, which makes it easier to calculate the financial impact of pulling money out early.

Best Life Insurance for High Returns on Income: Allianz Life Insurance

Allianz Allianz Life

Offers life insurance policies for foreign nationals with H-1B visas.

  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Plans offer high returns on investment
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Great for investment and long-term retirement planning
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. May increase your income by as much as 20%
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Allianz offers plans for foreign nationals including H-1B visas
  • con icon Two crossed lines that form an 'X'. Plans are meant specifically for high-income adults, alternatives may not be offered

Best for investing and high returns on income.

Allianz Life plans are geared towards high-income adults looking for more tax-free income. Allianz offers a 40% multiplier bonus with a 1% annual assets charge. In short, the professionals managing your investments take 10%. Overall, your investments would pull in an extra 14%-1% asset charge. This means you end up with 3% more than what you deposit every year your life policy is active. This plan offers strong returns when using a life policy to supplement your retirement savings. Allianz also offers specialized plans to grow your income by as much as 20% according to some estimates.

Of note: Allianz also offers plans for foreign nationals, including those with H-1B visas.

Best Life Insurance for Agent Support: New York Life Insurance

New York Life New York Life Insurance

Offers aggressive financial products and extensively trained agents.

  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Strong life insurance options for financial planning and wealth building
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Policies available nationwide
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Knowledgeable life insurance agents
  • con icon Two crossed lines that form an 'X'. May require a medical exam
  • con icon Two crossed lines that form an 'X'. Buyers looking for more modest policies may not find the most competitive pricing

If you're preparing for a comfortable retirement or looking to build generational wealth, New York Life is one of the strongest options. If you have questions or genuinely want to understand your life insurance options, New York Life agents are among the most qualified professionals in the business.

  • Life insurance provider with policies available across the US

New York Life Insurance agents go through extensive training before they ever hit the sales floor. What does this get you? Policies vary widely, and New York Life offers both large and small payouts. Some policies have significant penalties for early withdrawal, but taking a loan offers more options. Whatever your questions, New York Life agents are trained to offer comprehensive support giving you accurate information about its policies every time. The company comes in at position eight in J.D. Power's latest life insurance customer satisfaction study.

Read our New York Life Insurance review here.

Best Life Insurance for Term Life: North American Life Insurance

Sammons Financial North American Company

Offers term policies alongside accelerated death benefits for critical, chronic, and terminal illnesses and more.

  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Offers accelerated death benefits for critical, chronic, and terminal illnesses
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Offers conversion for life policies up to 70 years old
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Term policies can be renewed up to age 95 for qualifying applicants
  • con icon Two crossed lines that form an 'X'. Not all term policies qualify for renewal or conversion

Best Term Policy.

North American Company offers term policies alongside accelerated death benefits for critical, chronic, and terminal illnesses and more. The company allows one conversion on a 20-year policy at 15 years or 70 years old (whichever is earlier). The conversion cannot happen later than the five-year marker regardless of which policy you choose or the length. North American Company also offers a term policy with a lower premium renewable up to the age of 95 for qualifying insureds.

Types of Life Insurance

While there's many different types of life insurance policies , broadly speaking, there are two types of life insurance: temporary and permanent. Let's go over each in detail.

Temporary life insurance

Temporary life insurance is often called term life insurance. This type of policy covers you for a set amount of time before expiring, usually between 10-30 years. If you pass away after your policy expires, your family won't receive any benefits. Additionally, your policy won't accrue cash value like a permanent policy. That said, some term life insurance policies offer a conversion from term to whole life insurance, so you can extend your coverage. 

Because its benefits aren't guaranteed, term life policies are generally cheaper than permanent life insurance. That said, the vast majority of term life insurance policies never pay out. on

Permanent life insurance

Permanent life insurance is an umbrella term for a variety of life insurance policies that will insure you indefinitely and guarantee a payout as long as you maintain your policy. Policy types that fall under permanent life insurance includes:

  • Whole life insurance
  • Universal life insurance
  • Variable life insurance
  • Variable universal life insurance
  • Simplified life insurance
  • Guaranteed issue life insurance

These policies vary widely in purpose and intended buyers, but all guarantee death benefits to your loved ones. Some permanent life insurance policies, like whole, universal, and variable have a cash value component , which you can use as a savings tool or to leave your heirs a larger death benefit.

How to Pick the Best Life Insurance Policy for You

Finding the right fit in life insurance starts with finding a trusted insurance agent. Because there are so many state regulations, shopping for homeowners or auto insurance can be easily done online. Life insurance is not required. So it's a voluntary purchase. Many buyers don't know what they need or when they need it. Before making your selection, consider a few things:

Some companies will sell you a policy for your child as soon as they're born. While this may seem morbid, early sign-up means lower rates for a policy your child could enjoy in the future. Regardless, early sign-up equates to more policy for lower premiums and a higher likelihood of acceptance. At 20, you may be healthier and be able to pay into the policy for a longer period compared to when you're 50 with more age-related conditions.

As a general rule, never agree to more than you can afford. For the average life insurance agent, their job is to sell you a large policy with a large commission. Consider not only how much you make now, but how likely your current income is to continue. If you work on a project basis and your project is scheduled to end in 12 months, you may want to reconsider a policy premium outside your monthly savings.

How much are you prepared to buy? Some people only want a small policy to cover funerals and other end-of-life expenses. Others build a life policy into their retirement plan. Whatever direction you're going, involving a financial planner could help you make the right decisions. Depending on the carrier, customers can also compare set limits with index universal life policies, which set no limit. These policies never expire, and the value builds over the entirety of your life.

Living Benefits

Life happens unexpectedly. You could be healthy one day and in the hospital the next. Many life policies offer living benefits. These allow you to draw a limited amount out of your policy to cover medical and other bills you cannot pay while sick.

Much like a 401(k), many life insurance policies have penalties for early withdrawal. No matter what policy you want, this question is critical to an informed decision. It's a question of how early you can withdraw and how much you'll lose from the total to have the money in 10 years instead of 30 or after death.

Some policies require insured parties to pay premiums for at least one year before any significant payout would be available. Suicide exclusions are common. Even with no medical exam policies, the company may still do a check for known conditions. An insurance company has to mitigate its risk.

Flexibility

Once you've been denied a life insurance policy, a mark goes on your record. No matter the reasons, other insurance companies may deny you coverage based on the first denial. So consider your whole situation and choose your policy carefully before you submit any applications. Some policies have greater flexibility if you lose your job or otherwise can't make payments. Others will lapse if you miss even one payment.

Payment Type

Even within whole life or term life insurance policies, customers have the option to choose guaranteed fixed or variable rates. Some have guaranteed payouts, but you'll need to ask your agent for details.

What is your intended use? Why are you shopping for a life insurance policy in the first place, and what are your goals? Many successful financial planners also have a background in life insurance. So while they may not be able to find you a specific life insurance policy, financial planners can help you set out a blueprint for your purchase.

Why You Should Trust Us: How We Reviewed the Best Life Insurance Companies

In life insurance, it's easy to get "sold a bill of goods." Many life insurance agents pass a state test to be thrown into the deep end. Agents sell the company product, but not all know the products. In this vein, we look at the products each company offers. We also look at agent training.

A good life insurance agent may not volunteer all facts upfront. But a company's agents should answer questions about its products accurately and in a way the average consumer can digest. Agents should be able to inform you about the long-term benefits and limitations. This will help customers find the right policy for their long-term plan.

We consider affordability, policy sizes available, and performance for a comprehensive assessment in our insurance rating methodology . If you can, we recommend also working with a financial advisor to make a plan for your future with life insurance.

Our Expert Panel for The Best Life Insurance Companies

To inform our choices for the best life insurance companies, we spoke with the following experts:

  • Paul LaPiana , head of product at MassMutual
  • Barbara Pietrangelo , CFP, CLU, and chair of the nonprofit Life Happens
  • Wykeeta Peel , Corporate Vice President and Market Manager, African American Market Unit at New York Life

The Experts' Advice on Choosing The Best Life Insurance for You

How much life insurance coverage do you believe the average buyer should have.

Paul LaPiana, Head of Product at MassMutual

"There are different approaches to determining how much life insurance you need. One is the 'human life' approach, which estimates the current value of your future earning potential. Another is securing specific coverage to pay off debts such as a mortgage or provide for the education of children. A comprehensive protection plan should provide the right amount of coverage over the course of your working life and into retirement."

Barbara A. Pietrangelo, Chair of Life Happens

"There is no one-size-fits-all life insurance policy because everyone is different. One way to get a rough estimate is to multiply your income by 10 to 15; another is adding $100,00 to that amount, should you have a child and anticipate college education expenses.

Your best bet is to talk to a financial professional or use the Life Insurance Needs Calculator on LifeHappens.org to analyze what's right for you."

Wykeeta Peel, Corporate Vice President & Market Manager African American Market Unit at New York Life

"As you consider what policy best meets your needs, it can help to answer four key questions: First, how much death benefit do you need? Second, how long will you need that coverage? Third, what is your budget (or how much monthly premium can you afford to pay?), and finally, what is your investment risk tolerance?

To determine how much death benefit makes sense, it's helpful to think beyond using life insurance to cover funeral expenses and consider whether anyone is relying on the policy owner's income to maintain a lifestyle, pay rent or a mortgage, or fund a child's education and for how long.

There are various rules of thumb regarding the right amount of Life insurance coverage. Some tips can be found online, but they only provide an estimate and don't necessarily factor in an individual's specific needs. In my opinion, human guidance, powered by technology, is required. Basically, it comes down to how much money your loved ones would need to remain on firm financial ground if your earnings were no longer in the picture and that is different for everyone."

What is the biggest opportunity you see for improvement in the life insurance industry?

"Increased accessibility through digital and other channels as well as through underwriting enhancements. Increased tailoring of products and features. And an increased emphasis on health and wellness programs."

"Having enough qualified insurance professionals to walk potential buyers through the multiple benefits of life insurance will be pivotal to the growth of the industry. Education is a key factor here, as professional agents also need to be able to explain life insurance and its benefits in an easy, digestible way, especially when there are so many misconceptions about life insurance."

"The need for life insurance is greater than ever. In fact, a recent New York Life Wealth Watch survey found that 37% of adults have been thinking about life insurance more often these days – and half of adults report that financial products that provide protection (50%) and reliability (50%) are more important now compared to last year. This may be especially true for middle-market and Cultural Market families.

Our organizational structure of having Cultural Market agents embedded in the communities where we live and work allows us to understand the needs of diverse communities and develop solutions that resonate with them."

What advice would you give to buyers who are debating whether or not to buy life insurance?

"It is difficult to say with any certainty how healthy you will be years from now. That's why securing life insurance, and insuring your insurability, today, when you are the youngest you'll ever be again, and perhaps your healthiest is a wise decision."

"Do you love someone? If the answer is yes, then life insurance is certainly something you should consider. Many buy gifts and experiences to express their love, but haven't considered that life insurance is just another way to say I love you. Nothing says support like ensuring your family's financial security and peace of mind."

"If you have someone depending on your income, you should consider purchasing life insurance. A death benefit from a life insurance policy can replace income from the loss of a breadwinner, ensure a family can stay in their home, fund educational or retirement expenses, address debt and so much more.

A life insurance policy can also help you grow your family's wealth over time. Once the risk of an unexpected loss has been managed, you can begin to think more broadly about your family's financial future. Life insurance can enable your mindset to shift from death to growth."

What's the most important thing buyers should look for when choosing a life insurance agent/company to buy from?

"With life insurance, you are securing a future commitment that may be decades away. Research the company behind the policy to ensure it has high financial strength ratings, longevity, and an excellent track record of paying claims."

"When looking for an insurance agent or company, be sure to do your research. When comparing companies, be sure to remember that the policy features that fit you and your loved ones best is the most important factor. Don't automatically assume you should buy from the higher-rated company.

If the policy from the other company has more of what you're looking for, it might be the better choice. If you're unsure where to start, try the Life Happens Agent Locator to find an insurance professional in your area."

  • "The insurers' track record: At its core, life insurance is protection - a hedge against the unexpected - and you are paying premiums in exchange for the promise that the insurer will be there when you need them, so the financial strength and track record of the company backing your policy is critical.
  • Customer service: Are service professionals available by phone and digital channels? Is there is an online dashboard where you can manage your policy? Beyond ensuring assistance is available after you purchase a policy, it's also critical to ensure you have access to trusted advice and guidance before you buy.
  • Flexibility in conversion: How easy is it to change? Life can be unpredictable and while term insurance can cover your loved ones through a critical period of time, you may decide that access to cash value is an important piece of your strategy.
  • Accelerated online applications : Online applications are convenient but don't replace human guidance. Keep in mind that accelerated online applications may have a maximum coverage amount, meaning that you may not be able to get all the coverage you may need exclusively through an online process.
  • A range of payment options: It's important to understand how often you're required to make premium payments and whether and how often you can change the frequency of payments."

Best Life Insurance FAQs

According to JD Power's 2023 life insurance study, State Farm is the highest-rated life insurance company when it comes to overall customer satisfaction. However, you still may want to shop around for quotes from various insurers if you're looking to purchase a new policy.

There isn't one best life insurance company, because the best option for you will depend on the type of policy you're looking for. It's best to work with a qualified insurance agent to help you find the best coverage. If you're deciding between multiple similar options, it's also worth consulting J.D. Power's life insurance customer satisfaction study . The latest study ranks State Farm as the top pick for individual life insurance, outpacing Nationwide by three points.

The best type of life insurance policy for you will differ from someone else's, as your policy should be tailored to your needs. The best policy for you will be affordable and will offer the benefits best suited to your situation. For example, some policies are only meant to cover end-of-life expenses such as burial and funeral arrangements, whereas others include living benefits like a cash value insurance plan , which you can borrow against during your lifetime.

Some life insurance policies are advertised as "no medical exam." This doesn't mean the insurer won't ask you about known conditions or look at medical records. Policies with no medical exam also tend to offer lower benefits with higher premiums. Most companies have a network of medical examiners, some of whom can come to your home. You can find our guide on the best no exam life insurance here.

Each situation is different and requires a knowledgeable life insurance agent to assess your best options. Bring all your questions and the coverage you're looking for to an insurance agent near you to explore your options.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Read our editorial standards .

Please note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they're subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.

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The U.S. Department of State runs each passport agency and center. An agency and center is different than acceptance facilities which may include post offices, libraries, and local government offices.

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  • Check your email for a message confirming the details of your appointment. The system will hold your appointment for 15 minutes. If you do not confirm your appointment within 15 minutes, you will need to start over.
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