GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - School’s out and it’s time to start thinking about summer vacation. One of the big-ticket items on your trip will be your hotel room, so it’s definitely something you want to find a deal on.
With all those travel sites out there competing for your business, there must be no shortage of awesome deals. Right?
“It seems like there’s lots of competition because there’s so many sites, but in fact, almost all of them are owned by one of two companies. One is Expedia, the other is Booking Holdings,” says Kevin Brasler with Consumer’s Checkbook.
Here’s a free link to their site with ratings and advice on this topic.
Back to the issue at hand. Brasler says those two companies own 95 percent of the booking sites you see and that is not good news for us, the consumers.
“One thing they’ve done, now that they control 95 percent of the market share of third party bookings, is they’re insisting hotels that want to list on their sites, and all hotels want to list on their sites, they have to follow their pricing rules and their pricing rules are quite anti-competitive,” says Brasler.
Consumer’s Checkbook looked up more than 3,500 hotel rates and found that most of the time the different sites offered the same rate. It happened more than 85 percent of the time.
“We found little reason to even use Orbitz, Expedia, Trivago, a lot of these other sites, because they just didn’t save us anything. It’s not worth your time even using them,” he says.
Whoa. That’s a big statement. And, what’s a traveler supposed to do? Are there any ways to save money on hotel rooms these days?
There are a few.
Goseek.com looks for member discounts like AAA or coupon codes, and SnapTravel will text you special offers. Both sites averaged 13 to 14 percent discounts.
“There's something called mystery deals. This is something Hotwire offers and also Priceline Express offers. Those two companies are owned by these mega companies too, but the advantage there is they're essentially offering you a deal and not telling you the name and location of the hotel until you've prepaid and booked. That's how they're kind of getting around their own rules,” says Brasler.
Ooh, I don’t know, not knowing what hotel you’re staying in until you book? That may seem a bit too risky for some. Kevin Brasler says he has used it hundreds of times for both business and leisure travel and has had much success. More importantly, you can save up to 38 percent.
“It seems like a gamble. It seems like, 'Oh, I don't know exactly where I'll be staying. It will be some lousy place,' but no, the fact is they give you a lot of control over key criteria, the neighborhood you'll be staying in, the star level of the property, whether it's a resort or not, all kinds of information and also user reviews,” he says.
“Have I been disappointed? Sure, but I've been just as equally disappointed by booking a rate at a hotel at a place where I know the hotel."
Hotels would prefer you book directly with them because they pay 20 percent or more in commission when you book through third party sites, but don’t expect a better price by going directly to the source.
"You're unlikely to get a special discount from booking with the hotel but you might get perks, they might triple the amount of points you get, or put you in a higher quality room, throw in maybe free parking or free WIFI, they're increasingly kind of offering this kind of special members-only things,” he says.
Remember, unlike airfare, hotel rates usually go down the closer you get to your travel date. And, if you’re using a travel site to plan, remember that someone is trying hard to sell you on a deal that may not really be a deal at all.
“Where these two companies control almost all of market share but they have similar policies that really kill competition, and I think this should be a worry, not just to travelers, but to regulators,” Brasler says.
A couple other things Kevin says you should watch out for are the marketing strategies these websites use. You’ll often see a price that is crossed out and another less expensive price below it. Brasler says the price that is crossed out is meant to make you think that’s the regular price of the room and that you’re getting one heck of a deal.
That, he says, is false. He says the crossed-out price is not the going rate for the room and likely has never been charge for the room. A practice he believes is misleading and dishonest.
Also, you might see something telling you that “20 other people are looking at this." He says that’s also not likely true. It’s meant to create a sense of urgency so that you feel pressure to book so you don’t lose the great deal.