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The Agony and Ecstasy of Online Hotel Booking

(October 1999)

Finding a room at an inn online isn't as easy as you might think. The economy is doing well, which means more travelers and less room discounts.

Online room reservations are among the fastest growing trends in the travel industry. And while hotels are finally catching up with the airlines and car rental companies by offering weekly email discounts, there are so many choices for online bookings that it boggles the mind. Sites like Smarter Living have taken the confusion out of the process by listing the weekly discounts by city - a true time saver. But what if you are like most travelers and want to book in advance? What are your options to finding the best possible deal?

While trying to find a good deal on the web for a room in Las Vegas for October, I became a victim of online motel agony. I used Travelocity's hotel database to find a room. Most discount rates were few and far between for the dates I needed. Plus, it looked like many hotels were selling out on those dates. There was, however, one rate that caught my attention.

A $39 'Great Rate Sale' was showing to be available at Sunset Station, a two-year-old casino resort located in the Green Valley section of Henderson - just 5 miles off the strip. As a former resident of Las Vegas, staying on the strip wasn't a priority for me. I knew (and liked) the hotel. Plus, compared to $150 a night at many strip hotels, it was a great bargain. I proceeded to book the room by entering in all the necessary information. Then I received a notice that the room couldn't be booked for technical reasons. So I went back and re-entered my information. Once again, the room couldn't be booked. I looked for a customer service 800 number at Travelocity, but it was no where to be found. At Travelocity, you must email them with questions. They say they will get back with you within 24 hours.

Frustrated and knowing 24 hours was too long to wait, I went over to Expedia to see if the $39 room rate was available there. Sure enough, it was. So I proceeded to book the room, only to get the message "we cannot complete transaction." Expedia listed several reasons. Thankfully, Expedia offers an 800 customer service number for questions. I ended up speaking with a friendly customer service agent named Connie. She wasn't sure why I was unable to book the room, but told me I should try again in an hour. "Sometimes there is a glitch in the reservations system," she said. Glitches aside, I knew I needed to make a reservation soon before the $39 rate disappeared completely. (Incidentally, Expedia recently launched a new service called Hotel Price Matcher, which is similar to Priceline.)

I decided to call Sunset Station reservations directly. I asked a representative if she could find the $39 'Great Rate Sale' quoted online at Expedia and Travelocity. The lowest rate she could find for the nights that I wanted to stay there was for $129, the standard rack rate. Rack rate! No self-respecting experienced traveler pays rack rate if they can help it.

Still fully determined to find the $39 deal, I surfed on over to Las to see if there were any specials there. It led me to a discount travel company called Travelscape. Travelscape is a subsidiary of Las Vegas Reservation Systems (LVRS). LVRS currently has contracts with the premier hotels in Las Vegas, including the Luxor, New York New York, Monte Carlo, MGM Grand, Excalibur, Caesars Palace, Flamingo Hilton, plus many others. I ended up finding the $39 rate and booked it right away. While I didn't receive immediate confirmation, I received a confirmation notice by email a short 45 minutes later stating that my reservation had been successfully processed. Phew, what a relief!

So why was I able to book the $39 room rate on Travelscape's LVRS (now part of Expedia) and not Travelocity or Expedia? Simply put, Travelscape's LVRS is a hotel booking company, also known as a consolidator. A hotel booking company/consolidator provides discounts ranging from 20-70% off rack rate. They are able to offer these rates because they guarantee a certain number of bookings for the hotels they represent. Hotels, in turn, provide the discounts for the guaranteed business.

Travelocity, Expedia, ITN, and Preview Travel are, for the most part, online booking engines. Booking engines are different because the hotel pays to be in the service. Most engines will show corporate, family, promotional, senior citizen, or standard rates. They are useful for scanning for discounts, but you will probably not be able to book them for various unknown reasons. While some of these services have teamed up with tour operators to provide great package deals, their best hotel deals won't be available to you if you don't book the package with airfare.

So how can you avoid the online motel abyss? Know your options in the quest for discounts. You could end up saving hundreds of dollars.

Related Hotel Discount Sites:

Expedia Hotel Price Matcher Customers simply tell their dates of travel, the class of hotel they prefer (from one to five stars), and their destination, including the neighborhood of the city in which they want to stay. They then submit the price they are willing to pay for a room, and within moments they're told whether their request has found a match. Hotel Price Matcher bookings are non-refundable and cannot be canceled. However, if a higher-class room is available at the customer's requested price, they'll receive an automatic upgrade.

Hotel The first nationwide discount hotel booking service available directly over the Internet's World Wide Web. Offering savings of up to 65% off regular hotel rates in some of the world's most expensive cities.

Express Hotel Reservations Book Manhattan's top hotels for less. Save money by naming your own price! State the city you'll be visiting, the dates of your stay, and how many rooms you'll need.

1 800 USA HOTELS The lowest discount prices on your business and leisure lodging accommodations. Book online reservations quickly and easily at worldwide hotels, motels, and exclusive resorts around the world.

The largest selection of hotel discount coupons on the web.

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