Make travel booking sites like Expedia really save your money

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Like any pop music connoisseur, I’m a big fan of Olivia Rodrigo.

It goes deeper than thinking that a “driver’s license” is a little catchy – ACID last year dominated my Spotify Wrapped. I own a bucket with a hat that says, “It’s brutal here”; there is a “OR” sticker on my HydroFlask. I watched both seasons High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Recently, I even started calling her “Liv” in a conversation, as if we were friends by nicknames.

But when tickets for her upcoming tour went on sale in December, they sold out before I could get them. As I write this, the cheapest place on StubHub for her show on April 27 in New York is more than $ 400. Before fees.

It would rightly be cheaper for me to buy a ticket for a show outside the state and fly there a Get a hotel room for the night as if it were seen in NYC.

So, naturally, I was looking for a way to do it. When I did my research – anything for my girl Liv – I found myself visiting sites like Expedia, Hotwire and Travelocity. However, I realized that I didn’t know much about how they actually worked … or the deals they could potentially provide.

Should I use travel booking sites to plan trips?

Tim Leffelthe author The cheapest destinations in the world, agreed to help me address the pros and cons of these complex deals. He says the value of the site depends on the type of vacation I’m taking and how much work I’m willing to do.

“If you don’t have the time or desire to look for individual pieces of your trip, it’s a good way to solve it in one place,” says Leffel.

The site is often called an online travel agency or OTA. Leffel says OTA can be especially useful when combining services such as flights, hotel room, car rental and excursions in the destination city. They can also work well for young people like me who haven’t done much on business trips or made a name for themselves with a loyalty program that rewards repeat stays in a chain.

Sometimes OTAs have rates that differ slightly from hotel sites because they are out of sync.

However, a travel analyst Mark Murphy he says the prices the site shows me as Expedia are generally pretty close to what I would get if I went through, say, Hilton.com. This is because hotel chains do not want me to see significantly cheaper prices on Expedia. They want me to book through them.

In fact, most hotels have a policy of best rates, which means they will respect any discounts I find elsewhere. For example, the Wyndham website states: “If you book directly on our website or by phone and then find a lower, publicly available rate elsewhere, we will give you the same price. In addition, we will give you 3,000 Wyndham Rewards bonus points. ”

Exceptions are opaque booking sites like Hotwire. With opaque OTAs, I don’t see what I’m booking until I confirm the order. There are no names in the lists; I browse by location, price and (if possible) the level of hotel stars and lock the reservation without knowing the details.

Leffel says hotels and car rentals use opaque sites to move unsold inventory – “if there are hotels with only 30% occupancy and they want to increase it without publicly reducing their rates,” he said of the Hotwire service. .

The result? Extremely low prices for me, the consumer.

Despite opaque sites, the disadvantages of using OTA often outweigh the advantages.

First of all, there is not as much competition as I might think. Expedia Group owns Hotels.com, Travelocity, Hotwire, Orbitz, ebookers, CheapTickets and Trivago, among others. The competition is generally lowering prices as stores lower rates to gain customers, so the fact that they are all under one roof reduces my chances of finding a spectacular offer. (This also means that it is probably a waste of time to check each of these OTAs individually.)

But perhaps the biggest disadvantage is related to pricing mechanics. Murphy says that when I book directly at the hotel, the hotel gets 100% of my money. When I book through OTA, the site takes a commission.

This means that “in the eyes of the hotel, you are a lower-yielding traveler – you have a lower priority,” he says.

This can translate into smaller rooms in worse places (aka by the elevator, overlooking the dump, etc.). This can also have implications for customer service. Hotel staff may be less likely to offer me benefits or break the rules if they see on my computer screen that I have used OTA.

And if something goes wrong on my journey – such as a pandemic, I need to change plans or cancel flights – it can be difficult to contact customer service and get a refund.

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Bottom line

With a few exceptions, travel booking sites – or OTAs – generally do not offer much better deals than bookings directly because of the way pricing works. This is especially true if I’m looking for a room to move around and / or upgrades, because entities like hotels are less willing to meet my whims if a third party reduces my payments.

Still, Leffel says it never hurts to spend 15 minutes checking prices in different ways using different sites.

“As always, she likes to look around and see,” he says. “It is not cut and dried. You never know.”