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Booking Strategy

New Ways to Book a Hotel Room in 2014

Ed Perkins outlines some big changes that are coming to the way you book hotels in the year ahead.

You can expect some new ways to arrange hotel accommodations this year, as well as a few changes in the old ways. And, as usual, along the way you’ll have to watch out for gotchas.

The biggest change this year is a new website that allows you to compare hotel prices, posted side by side in terms of what you actually have to pay. Until now, the big metasearch engines have used only the base room rates, as supplied by individual hotels, either directly or through the Global Distribution Systems (GDS), in their initial side-by-side price comparisons. They may show taxes and mandatory fees somewhere along the purchase process, but do not include them in the first comparison, and sometimes they state only something to the effect that “taxes and fees may be extra.” This approach, of course, greatly distorts price comparisons.

  • Taxes can add more than 20 percent to the total cost of a hotel, and they often vary substantially within a single metro area that may encompass many different taxing venues.
  • Some (far too many) hotels carve out a part of their real prices, present the carve-outs as mandatory fees with such plausible labels such as “resort” and “housekeeping” fees, and initially post a phony base price reduced by the carve-out. In popular tourist destinations such as Las Vegas and Hawaii, these mandatory fees can understate the true price by up to$50 a night.

Department of Transportation rules prevent airlines from understating their true prices in these ways, but hotels do it routinely. Now, however, a new metasearch website, The Suitest allows you to filter price comparisons to include taxes, mandatory fees, and, if you want, Wi-Fi and parking rates, into the initial price-comparison postings. It also assigns a “deal grade” to each posting and other details; it links to the online agency with the best price, where you actually buy the deal. So far, it lists only a limited number of domestic upscale hotels, but it finally breaks the “hidden fee” barrier. I previously reported on this development in 10 Innovative Websites That Will Change the Way You Travel, but it’s important enough to warrant coverage in these columns as well. Let’s hope that the larger metasearch and online travel agencies pick up on the idea.

Worried about arranging a hotel reservation in advance, only to find out that the price later dropped? Trip Rebel, currently alive in beta, makes an intriguing offer: Book through its system, then it tracks your reservation; if the rate drops, it rebooks you at the new rate and refunds 100 percent of the difference to you. The problem here, of course, is that the system does not work with nonrefundable room rates, and with Trip Rebel, you pay the first reservation in advance. Many of you would be better off with a pay-when-you-get-there reservation, which you can rebook yourself. Still, it’s an interesting idea.

For some reason, the flash-sale business model for hotel deals seems to be contracting. Two year ago, I monitored a half dozen such websites, but today, the main survivors seem to be Jetsetter (which combined with SniqueAway) and Vacationist, along with Groupon and Eversave for discount coupons. Flash-sale websites still offer good deals, largely on upscale properties, and the coupons offer some good pricing on budget-class accommodations, as well as more expensive spots. But these days you find fewer places to look.

A reader booking a European driving tour encountered a recent gotcha. He made a “free cancellation, pay later” reservation on Booking.com, only to find a notice in the confirmation email calling for a 50 euro fee for cancellation. This seems to be a problem with the hotel rather than with Booking.com, because I couldn’t replicate the process. No matter which dates I chose, the site noted that no rooms were available, which I suspect was a way of handling the problem until it could be fixed with the hotel. Still, always check any link to special conditions and details before you make a final buy on any hotel accommodation.

Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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By Ed Perkins

A nationally recognized reporter, writer, and consumer advocate, Ed Perkins focuses on how travelers can find the best deals and avoid scams.

He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004), the first step-by-step guide specifically written for small business and self-employed professional travelers. He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union.

Perkins' advice for business travelers is featured on MyBusinessTravel.com, a website devoted to helping small business and self-employed professional travelers find the best value for their travel dollars.

Perkins was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, one of the country's most influential travel publications, from which he retired in 1998. He has also written for Business Traveller magazine (London).

Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America" and "This Week with David Brinkley," "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.

Before editing Consumer Reports Travel Letter, Perkins spent 25 years in travel research and consulting with assignments ranging from national tourism development strategies to the design of computer-based tourism models.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Perkins lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife.

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