BRUSSELS: European airlines and travel companies are allegedly flouting consumer laws by advertising low ticket prices online, then slapping-on extra charges during the later stages of booking.

A European Commission study claims that half the 433 websites examined by consumer watchdogs in fifteen countries were found to be lacking clarity on pricing and conditions of sale.

Cornelia Kutterer, senior legal advisor for European consumer organization BEUC says prices "should be available to consumers at the beginning of the process not at the end when they have gone through many web pages".

In Spain, the Instituto Nacional del Consumo claims Irish low-cost airline Ryanair and domestic carrier Vueling advertised flights as free, but failed to mention all applicable charges.

Together with Iberia and Spanair, the airlines were also slammed for apparently advertising flights at prices that could not be found when web searches were made.

In addition, alleges the consumer group, Ryanair, Transavia and Tuy-Fly published details of the terms and conditions in English only, although they were operating in Spain.

But in other member states, there were fewer legal transgressions. In Austria, for example, of the twenty websites studied, none were found to be at fault. Conversely, half of those examined in Sweden and two-thirds in Finland had reportedly broken the law.

The companies could now face fines unless they change their practices.

Ryanair robustly denied any wrongdoing. Says spokeswoman Lorna Farren: "All Ryanair flights are advertised inclusive of taxes and charges on the homepage of Passengers may then choose to avail themselves of discretionary extras such as baggage and priority boarding when they book their flights."

Vueling spokesman Alfons Claver was more circumspect: "We are discussing the issues at the moment with the Instituto Nacional del Consumo to review the findings."

The EU report reflects the findings of a similar study in Poland carried out last year on airlines operating there.

Data sourced from International Herald-Tribune; additional content by WARC staff