a recent in-depth study by webwatch makes it clear that Shopping for a hotel room has become more complicated, not less complicated, since the advent of the World Wide Web. if you`re looking for the best room deals on the Internet, you`ll need to shop around.
, a grant-funded division of Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports magazine, conducted extensive head-to-head testing of five leading travel sites: Expedia, Hotels.com, Lodging.com, Orbitz and Travelocity.
Here are some practical tips to keep in mind when you surf the Web for the best hotel deals:
Beware of potential bias. The screens on the leading independent travel Web sites are inundated with banners, pop-ups, pop-unders, and even rate listings that are bought and paid for with hotel advertising and marketing dollars. Make sure that you`ve examined all the choices before booking.
Keep shopping around. Yes, Consumers Union has issued this warning before—more than once. But it remains the single most important piece of advice to help you find the best travel bargains online. An important note: After extensive testing and analysis, Travelocity emerged as the winner in this session of hotel testing. And yet Travelocity`s strong performance needs to be put into context. Simply put, Travelocity failed to return the lowest hotel rate more than 70% of the time. All the other Web sites performed even worse. If it`s important to you to find the best rates and fares, you need to consult more than one Web site.
Always ensure that the rate you`ve found is available for immediate booking. The better sites will provide explanations of their booking policies. Also, make sure you are qualified to obtain that rate, since sometimes the best rates are only available for certain consumers, such as Government employees, military personnel, or members of organizations such as AAA.
Before booking a hotel room online, make sure you`ve determined the final rate. There may be additional charges, including federal, state, and local taxes; security and lodging fees; and booking or service fees from the hotel and/or the Web site.
Never book a hotel room online until you`ve read and understood the cancellation policy. Many independent travel Web sites charge additional fees for changes and cancellations, in addition to fees levied by the hotel.
If you know the specific hotel property you want to visit, conduct an online search and find the branded Web site for that hotel (which may be maintained by either the chain or the property itself). The chances are good that you may find a lower rate there. In fact, when Consumer WebWatch queried rates at specific properties, lower rates were returned by the branded sites in 1 out of 3 cases.
When shopping for hotel rates online, always ensure that you are extremely accurate about the information you input. For example, many hotel chains maintain properties with similar-sounding names (e.g., “Marriott Downtown” vs. “Marriott Midtown” or “Holiday Inn Airport” vs. “Holiday Inn Airport North”). If you`re comparing rates for a specific property, determine its full address and zip code before comparison shopping on other sites.
Be very careful when comparison shopping from Web site to Web site. During the course of this testing, Consumer WebWatch found numerous problems with the default functions on some travel sites. Each site may not store and “remember” the information you input as you shop, so the data you entered may be lost and the search engine may revert to incorrect dates or locations.
Use a charge card for online purchases. Charge cards generally provide the most federal consumer protections in the United States. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, your liability for unauthorized charges is limited to $50—if you report the billing error to the charge card company in writing within 60 days after the bill was mailed to you. Charge card companies and e-merchants may cover this fee in certain situations. Some charge card companies also will let you use a temporary “throw-away” charge card number when making purchases online, so that payments are credited to your actual charge card but without your needing to share electronically your real account number or password. Inquire with your charge card company about this option. You may also want to consider setting aside a single charge card for online use. That way, if a security breach occurs, you will still be able to use your other charge cards.