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Good Travel Deals for You (and Your Dog)

By now you’ve probably learned as much as you ever will about how to score the best airfares, and you’re turning to scoring the best hotel accommodations you can get. Some new (or new to me) websites can help you navigate this complex marketplace.

DealAngel is the most interesting. Its shtick is to rank available deals in any city you specify according to whether each is a “Great Deal,” a “Good Deal,” an “OK Deal,” “Not a Deal,” or a “Rip-Off.” For each city you enter, the site displays up to 70 hotels for the dates you specify, along with a star rating, a review-based rating, the all-up nightly room rate, including taxes and fees, and, of course, the “deal” rating for each. If you decide to buy, you link through to the agency that has the deal: DealAngel doesn’t sell rooms, itself; it monitors some 30 online hotel booking sites.

In a brief test, I found its deal evaluations to be realistic. For example, it showed a “Good Deal” Orlando hotel for $125 a night, while Priceline was listing that same hotel, same dates, for $234 a night. In Las Vegas, DealAngel showed a “Good Deal” hotel at two nights for $188, compared with $260 on Travelocity.

DealAngel seems to monitor all the “usual suspects” among online agencies. But it doesn’t monitor private sale agencies nor does it (or could it) monitor any of the several “opaque” sites such as Priceline. Also, coverage is limited so far to some of the biggest U.S. cities, plus a very few international spots (including Cancun, Toronto, and Vancouver, but not London or Paris). The website says that coverage of smaller cities and many other top international destinations is “coming soon.”

All in all, I’d say that although Deal Angel is still a work in progress, it’s already worth a look. If nothing else, it saves you the time and hassle of checking some 30 independent sites for the same information.

Room 77 has been around a while, but keeps adding new features. The latest is the ability to check for senior and AAA discounts, a capability not available on some other online comparison systems. Also, its deals do not require prepayment, as some other search sites do. And it retains its earlier feature that shows individual room locations, so that you can at least request a specific location within a hotel (something that, as far as I know, is not available elsewhere). When I tested, Room 77 located the same $188 deal in Las Vegas I found on DealAngel.

For a “change in tempo,” as DJs announce, Dog Vacay is testing an exchange website where you can find someone to take care of your dog while you’re on vacation—or where you can sign up to be a custodian for someone else’s dog. As with Deal Angel, geographic coverage is still sparse: The closest offer to my hometown is more than 100 miles away.

Some publicity folks at Hyatt had me take a look at a YouTube presentation of Hyatt’s new IT system and how it would assist pricing plans. The clip is aimed more at the industry than consumers, but it highlighted a trend that will affect you: Hotels are catching up with airlines in the arcane practice of “revenue management,” which means that individual hotels will be adjusting their best rates with ever-increasing frequency. That, in turn, means more regular exhaustive and repeated checking to get at your best deal. Although Hyatt may be ahead of the pack, you can be sure competitors are following the same path.

That’s probably not good news for many of you, because it means more looking at private sales and other “outlets” for off-price disposal of unsold inventory. Presumably, enterprising online sites will try to keep monitoring the changes; DealAngel, Room 77, and others such as SmarterTravel are examples of those that do. But the clear message is that finding the best deal is going to take more work, not less. Be warned.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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