Travelers teased online with array of hotel deals
By Gary Lee
Hotel bargains on the Internet are getting hotter by the week.
Orbitz.com last week added dozens of independent properties to its inventory, many at rock-bottom prices. For example: Harrah's in Las Vegas, marked down to $52 from $140.
The official tourist Web site for New York, www.nycvisit.com, was also recently overhauled and is featuring such deals as the trendy Gershwin, in the Flatiron District, for $99 a night instead of the usual $169. Travelweb.com, a new site scheduled to roll out later this spring, is teasing travelers with the promise of sharply reduced rates at five major American chains.
But the rapid growth in the online hotel booking market has also brought hand-wringing and confusion among consumers. With more than a dozen major portals advertising rooms at rates of up to 70 percent off, where to turn for the best deal?
Not only that. Some online bookers are seduced by tempting rates, only to find that the room they snagged in a five-star hotel turns out to be the equivalent of a broom closet next to the ice machine. And as an increasing number of travelers book rooms online, more complaints are reaching us from those frustrated with the hassles of changing or canceling reservations.
Dissatisfaction among the major chains with third-party agencies booking their rooms has added to the confusion. In the latest maneuver, Priceline.com, one of the big players in the online hotel industry, bought a share in Travelweb.com, the new site owned by the five hotel chain giants. Later this spring, Priceline will start using Travelweb.com as its resource for rooms on its own site and on Lowestfare.com, another site that it owns. Although the move probably won't affect room prices at first, it will take away some of the control that third-party agencies have on room rates available on the Internet and give it to the chains. Eventually the best deals at Hiltons, Westins or other chain properties may be on their own Web sites or on Travelweb.com, rather than on third-party sites such as Hotels.com.
"There are better and better hotel deals on the Internet, but it's not always clear where to find them," said Eric Christensen, a consultant for the online agency PlacesToStay.com. "Travelers have got to be aware that most of the online agencies are promoting the rooms that can get them the biggest profit, rather than the one that best suits the traveler's needs. So travelers have to know how to find what they want."
Here's a rundown of the most popular hotel booking sites and whom they're best for.
- Quikbook.com is the only major hotel search engine that allows customers to pay for the hotel at the end of their stay, rather than requiring payment over the Internet at the time of the reservation.
- PlacesToStay.com caters more to the leisure traveler and features more bed-and-breakfasts, guesthouses and independent properties not available on the other sites.
- Hotels.com is the biggest U.S.-owned discount agent online, offering 7,700 properties in 325 destinations in the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia.
- All-Hotels.com features properties worldwide 77,000 in all, including Latin America and Asia. The site often indicates whether the hotel is featuring reduced-rate specials.
- AsiaVoyage24.com is a good site to find cheaper rates in China, Japan and other Asian countries. It represents hundreds of properties throughout the region.
- Expedia.com, Orbitz.com and Travelocity.com, all of which list hotels worldwide, are worth checking for packages that include airfare and hotels as well as for occasional great lodging-only deals.
- Priceline.com and Hotwire.com allow you to bid on rooms. Hotwire provides a general description of the property available, including the level of stars and the price of the room. Only after you hand over your credit card number is the name of the property revealed. Priceline can yield some of the best prices on the Web. The downside is that you have no say over which property you end up in and are locked into the deal after making a bid.