Summer travel season is in full effect, and if you feel that you’ve spent way too much time searching for hotel bargains online, you probably have, so we're letting you in on a little secret when it comes to booking your next vacation stay.
“Almost all those sites are owned by one of two companies,” said Kevin Brasler with Boston Consumers’ Checkbook. “One is Expedia and the other is called Booking Holdings, which used to call itself Priceline. They have bought up and control 95% of the third-party booking sites.”
According to independent non-profit, Boston Consumers’ Checkbook, those two companies own just about every booking site you can think of and have essentially set the market when it comes to hotel room pricing.
“Now that they have 95% of this market share, they are insisting that hotels offer every room at the same price across all booking channels, including the hotels own websites,” said Brasler.
We reached out to Booking Holdings and Expedia about this, and only Expedia got back to us saying: “The foundation of our business and brands is matching travelers with the best hotel for their needs at the best price available for us to offer,” said Expedia.
Checkbook says its researchers looked up more than 3,500 hotel rates on 18 different booking sites plus company websites and found very little price variation. We tried it to find an online room deal at Hotel Viking in Newport this weekend. We found the same $429 rate at seven online sites and the hotel’s website.
So, where can you get a deal??
Consumers Checkbook says the best bargains are the Hotwire Hot Rate or Priceline Express Deal Mystery rates. Both offer deep savings, but the catch is you don’t know the name of the hotel until you’ve booked and paid.
“You can control how many star levels the place has, average user reviews, wifi, free parking, and whether pets are welcome. So you really do get control over a lot of key criteria to make sure you’re in a good spot,” said Brasler.
Travel Blogger, Jennifer Yellin of dealswelike.com says you can also save money by calling the hotel directly.
“They are trying to introduce member-only pricing. And they’ll give you many chains, like a 10% discount and they’ll give you benefits, as well for just booking with them, so they don’t have to pay these third-party companies,” said Yellin.
Be sure to join the hotels’ loyalty program. You might get a room upgrade or free parking, wifi or breakfast. And don’t forget to ask about exclusive offers, AAA, AARP, military or corporate company discount.
“They are really trying to get you to be a member and to book through them directly, and they’ll offer you these extra incentives and you can earn the points also,” said Yellin. “So an expensive stay will get you a lot of points to redeem for a future hotel.”
The American Hotel and Lodging Association has some tips for booking hotel rooms through a third-party website this summer:
Look out for misleading messages on websites like “book now” or “2 rooms left;” double check the websites URL to make sure you’re on a legitimate site; -make sure the site is secure before you make a payment, and know and understand the hotel’s cancellation/change policy.