“How the hell do I book a hotel room these days?”
It seemed like such a simple question my buddy was asking me, yet he couldn’t believe he didn’t know the answer. He’d been trying to book a room for a wedding at the last minute. The wedding party’s discount rates at a four-star hotel were long gone, and now he was scrolling through the pricier less-than-four-star places and getting angrier by the minute. Should he book through Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak, or even Trivago (yeah, the one with that guy)? That’s when I realized: Man, has the “simplest” part of Travel 101—booking your lodging—gotten complicated lately. For good or bad, the ever-increasing onslaught of auction sites, online discounts, travel apps, and, the latest trend, money-back sites like Tingo and DreamCheaper has created a bewildering world of choices.
So I told my buddy: No, the sites he reeled off—Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak, etc.—should never be used to book a hotel room. Here’s why: These “OTAs,” or online travel agencies, operate by undercutting the “rack rate,” the official price displayed on hotels’ home pages, by buying up rooms in bulk at a discount, then selling them to regular travelers like you and me at slightly lower-than-rack-rate prices.
And while that may seem like a deal, the truth is, you can do a lot better. In fact, the wise traveler knows to always aim for a rate that’s not just less than the OTA rack rate but at least 25% less.
When I told my friend, he was relieved but wary. “Two things are not going to happen,” he said. “I will not get ripped off, and I will not stay at a Holiday Inn Express. OK, so what do I do?”
That’s easy. Here’s the game plan.