Save BIG With My Top Travel Tips

August 25, 2006  

From time to time, I will post blog entries which are not directly related to the goal-free topic, but rather are related to the process I went through for pulling together the book. Topics may include getting published, blogging, or internet promotions. If there is a topic that is of particular interest to you, write me. Today I am talking about travel.

Back in 2003, I interviewed people for Goal-Free Living during a 12,000 mile road trip where I used wireless (cellular) internet access in my car to book rooms in 68 hotels ranging from 5-star luxury in Las Vegas to 1-star motels on the various highways. It was an interesting experience and it allowed me to try many different booking techniques. I have refined my approach over the years.

Here is my process for booking a hotel at the best rate

1. First research hotels on Orbitz (or whatever traditional booking system you prefer: Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels.com, etc. I will use Orbitz as the example for simplicity).

2. Next, go to Hotwire.com to see if there is a nicely priced property in comparison to what you found on Orbitz. Hotwire does not show you the property name, but it does give you the price, the general location, star rating, and amenities. The prices on hotwire are sometimes as much as 40% off the best price you will find elsewhere. Unfortunately, the savings can be close to nothing. Yesterday, I booked a hotel in Denver. The best price on Orbitz was $86. I got it for $57 on Hotwire. That’s a 30% discount. Not bad.

3. But don’t stop here. Next, go to Priceline.com and offer a rate about 20% lower than the best price on Hotwire – using the same location and star rating. With Priceline YOU name the price for a given star ratings. You might want to check out bidding support sites for some help in your bidding (I don’t bother). With Priceline, I have found hotels for 60% off the Orbitz price. But don’t go too low, or your bid won’t be accepted and you won’t be able to re-bid the same star rating and location (for a period of time). I found that Priceline is consistently the least expensive option, if your bid is accepted.

4. If your bid is not accepted, you have a couple of options. You can go through this process again for a different location or star rating. Or you can just go back to Hotwire for the purchase.

5. Research Hotwire a bit further to get a clearer picture of which hotel you might get. Go back to Orbitz and enter the search criteria. Click on the “Expand search options” link and check off the amenities listed on the Hotwire property of interest. You should end up with a relatively short list (often only one or two properties) that match. This will give you a decent idea of which property you might get on Hotewire.com. Remember, Hotwire tends to give you mainly major chains like Marriott, Hilton, Radisson, Holiday Inn and the likes.

6. Unless you find a desirable property at a large discount on Hotwire, you may want to consider booking the tradition route.

7. But before booking on Orbitz, go to the hotel website for the chain. For example, if you are thinking of booking a Courtyard by Marriott, go to the Marriott website and search. If the price is the same (or better), I usually book through the chain website as they typically have better cancellation policies and more generous rewards programs. Be sure to see if a AAA discount applies. Always double check the cancellation policies.

8. Before making your final decision, you may want to check other websites, such as sidestep.com which claims to search over 100 travels sites with one click.

9. Finally, book your room and enjoy your stay!

Tips about Hotwire and Priceline

  • When using these websites, if you stay in a hotel for several nights, it seems that the rate is determined by the highest rate for the period. So, if you are staying in a hotel Wed – Sun, you might get a better rate by booking Wed – Thu (weekday pricing) separately from Fri – Sun (Weekend pricing). Using this approach, I saved 45% extra during the weekend. Had I booked Wed – Sun as one booking, I would have paid the higher weekday rate all four nights.
  • It appears that the rate that the hotel gets paid by Hotwire is about $10 less than the price you pay (a couple of hotels accidentally printed the rate they received on my check-in documentation). I have used this to my advantage on a couple of occasions. If I want to extend my stay, I sometimes do this with the front desk and they have honored the even lower price ($10 below Hotwire.com). Don’t count on this though.
  • Hotwire has a “double the difference” policy. If you find the same hotel on the same date sold elsewhere for less, they will refund double the difference. I only had this happen once and they promptly refunded the money. Be sure to read the terms and conditions for details and restrictions.
  • Caveats about Hotwire and Priceline

  • Hotwire and Priceline are a bit risky. You are not assured of the hotel you will get. Although most of the time I have been happy, occasionally, you get a dud deal. As tickets are non-refundable, if there is a chance your plans will change. For this reason, I tend to book my hotels with Hotwire or Priceline at the last minute.
  • The star ratings are always accurate on Priceline.com (or sometimes you even get upgraded). However, on a few occasions, the star rating on Hotwire was inflated (a 3 star hotel was listed as a 4 star, for example). Both sites use their own rating system that is not always the same as on Orbitz. And keep in mind, star ratings do not mean quality. They mean amenities such as on-site restaurant or the availability of dry-cleaning.
  • You do not get frequent flier miles (or frequent stay points). This is also the case with purchases on Hotels.com and sometimes the other 3rd party websites.
  • You need to pay up-front, so if cash flow is an issue, take that into consideration.
  • A service fee is added, so consider the total cost (you are given these on the final page before confirming your purchase). An accurate comparison can be made between the total cost on these websites with the cost + tax on Orbitz. Unfortunately, you can’t always easily calculate the taxes on Orbitz.
  • Although the process might sound complicated, it does not take much time. And it can save you a bundle. Do you have any other tips, tricks, or caveats?

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    Old Comments

    5 Responses to “Save BIG With My Top Travel Tips”

    1. John on August 25th, 2006 11:03 am

      I wonder if people know that Big travel agencies like EXPEDIA have a lot of complaints. EXPEDIA is listed in the top ripoff link at the bad business bureau ( http://www.ripoffreport.com ) and has two “dedicated” websites due to poor customer support and lies: http://www.victimsofexpedia.com and http://www.shameonexpedia.com
      orbitz has: http://www.shameonorbitz.com

      Kind regards

    2. Stephen Shapiro on August 25th, 2006 1:52 pm

      John,

      I am a full-time traveler, with sometimes as many as 150 hotel nights a year. I have used Expedia, Orbitz and others with no problems…ever. I once had an issue with an Expedia reservation, and they promptly corrected the situation.

      Any company of any size has complaints. I don’t dispute that the complaints on your websites are real. However, given my experiences, I would recommend any of the sites that I mentioned in my blog entry.

      Steve

    3. John on August 31st, 2006 1:42 pm

      I used Orbitz, Hotwire and EXPEDIA too without any trouble. But when I had a little trouble (originated by EXPEDIA) I could see (and suffered) the catastrophic consequences. I agree that big companies might not be perfect but to lie and cheat is far away from routine (understandable) mistakes.

    4. Adrienne Davis on September 6th, 2006 9:04 am

      Great information on hotel prices, very clearly presented. I have posted it on my site and credited you, hope that is OK.

    5. My Travel Tips | Business Innovation Speaker and Consultant Stephen Shapiro on April 10th, 2012 1:02 pm

      [...] for ages and can get incredible deals on hotels.  A few years back (2006) I wrote an article on how to use these sites most effectively to get the best rate.  Things have not changed much since then, although there are sites where people share their deals [...]