HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Who doesn’t think a vacation is overdue? Many people haven’t taken an actual vacation to a tropical resort or out of the country since before the pandemic began in 2020. Where do people go to plan and book vacations? Online.
There’s no shortage of travel websites that offer bookings, reviews, recommendations, and comparisons. If you’ve ever used one to find good deals you may have noticed that most travel sites offer similar prices. And by “similar” I mean, “identical.”
When searching for a 5-night stay in Cancun, I found that every deal on Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels.com, Trivago, and Hotwire were identical, or $1 apart. Why? Because all of those sites are owned by the same company. Expedia owns those travel websites in addition to Cheaptickets, VRBO, Orbitz, and a few others. Priceline doesn’t just operate its website, it also owns Kayak and booking.com. They’re not competitors, they’re the same company offering the same deals.
If you see a deal that’s $100 cheaper, read the fine print. Discounts like that are usually offered under a no-cancellation policy.
Travel websites are great for window shopping. I suggest also checking out Google Travel. Armed with the biggest search engine in the world, Google Travel combs the internet looking for the best prices, reviews, and recommendations. It also shows in the search results articles about the resort, hotel, and destination published by online magazines. You’ll also find user-submitted Google reviews and photos.
TripAdvisor is a great resource for travelers researching hotels and resorts. It is also owned by Expedia and is filled with fake reviews. Some fake reviews are paid for by the hotel and some come from travel bloggers and influencers who receive free stays in exchange for glowing reviews.
The ranking system leaves room for questions. I searched TripAdvisor for recommendations and information on a trip to San Francisco last fall. Of course, I was interested in the list of “Best Value” hotels. There at #7 was a hotel name I wasn’t familiar with. Upon a closer inspection, I found that while other hotels had thousands of reviews, this one had just 64 reviews. All 64 reviews were 5-stars and the per-night price was lower than most of the others.
I copied and pasted the TripAdvisor listing and entered it into the website www.fakespot.com. This site analyzes reviews posted to Amazon and TripAdvisor. After a few seconds, FakeSpot showed me it had found that 30% of the TripAdvisor reviews of this particular hotel were likely fakes. This is an especially good tool for hotels and resorts you think may be a “best-kept secret.”
When should you use a travel website? They’re great for window-shopping and you may run across a particularly good deal with bundle specials that combine the hotel stay with airfare. I also suggest checking with the hotel and checking on the price if you book with them directly. Since they’re paying travel sites a commission, the hotel or company may be willing to offer you a better deal. If not, they may offer extras such as room upgrades, free internet, free tickets to a show or buffet.
For that same trip to San Francisco last fall, I booked through a travel website for a room on a low floor and free meal vouchers. When I arrived the room was on the 7th floor and the vouchers were for a few bucks at the hotel’s gift shop where I could get a pre-packaged donut and coffee. I was also being charged $30/day for internet access.
When I asked the desk clerk about the lack of extras and room location, I was told it was because I booked through a travel website. She told me that had I booked directly from the hotel, I would have gotten 3 free buffets, free internet, and the choice of a room. They were much more willing to handle special requests and cancellations would be easier through the hotel. Any complaints I made had to go through the travel website. Lesson learned.
If you’re traveling abroad, it’s also a good idea to contact the hotel directly to ask about any COVID restrictions at the resort and in the town where you’ll be staying.
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