Travelocity may have just one-upped Orbitz in the low-price guarantee game, at least when it comes to hotels. Travelocity customers can now get a refund when they find a lower price on a competing website (or Travelocity), right up until the day before check-in. The important term there, of course, is "competing websites," meaning Orbitz, Expedia, or the hotel itself. Opaque sites like Hotwire and Priceline are not included, but everything else is fair game.
Customers who claim refunds by December 31 will also receive a $50 discount on future bookings ("Good Buy" hotels or flight-and-hotel packages).
There are a few wrinkles, of course. As always, the lower price must be for the exact same hotel, room, and dates as your booking. And the guarantee doesn't apply to all Travelocity hotel bookings, just prepaid "Good Buy," hotels. "Top Secret Hotels" and any non-prepaid bookings (obviously) are not included. For these and Travelocity's other products (flights, car rentals), there is only a 24-hour window for claiming a refund (though the $50 credit is a permanent feature).
For comparison, Orbitz' Price Assurance program proactively issues refunds up until the day your travel begins, but refunds are calculated versus Orbitz purchases only, not prices found on other sites. Price Assurance is convenient, though, because you don't have to do any legwork. Expedia gives you 24 hours, though the lower price can be from other websites.
As Michelle Higgins at the New York Times notes, "The new guarantee comes at a time when travelers are skittish about booking hotels, for fear that prices might slide further." Travelocity is no doubt trying to convince travelers to take the plunge on a hotel. As a business approach, it makes sense: The odds of finding a lower price are (theoretically) slim enough that the gains from additional bookings outweigh the risk of paying out refunds. Of course, with struggling hotels continuing to lower rates, that theory is far from foolproof.
But for diligent, penny-counting consumers, Travelocity's new refund scheme offers a considerable amount of comfort, not to mention a potential payoff. It's a nice move on Travelocity's part, and definitely raises the bar on low-price guarantees. How long until Orbitz or Expedia move to match?
(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com and Hotwire.com.)