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New Booking Site Offers Yet Another Approach to Hotel Deals

Here’s the deal: Check out possible hotel prices however you prefer, book a refundable reservation at what looks like the best option, post that option on, and wait to see if either your original hotel or another one “bids” a lower price for the same time. If BackBid gets you a better deal, take it, but if BackBid doesn’t generate a good offer, stick with your original—after all, you haven’t lost anything. You can post a proposed trip even if you haven’t already made a reservation. That’s the operating model for Montreal-based BackBid, one of the newer approaches to “opaque” hotel pricing.

Not all hotels sell through opaque outlets, but those outlets that do see a big advantage: Opaque outlets allow a hotel to cut its rates selectively without openly advertising their cuts. That means they can “protect” their official pricing while still dealing with a few price-sensitive customers they know they aren’t likely to attract at list prices.

BackBid’s main advantage is that you know the hotel making a cut-price offer and don’t have to accept it unless you like it. Instead, you can stick with whatever you considered to be your best available deal. But BackBid also has some drawbacks: 

  • You can’t use it if the best deal you can find otherwise is nonrefundable—it works only when your first reservation is refundable—and you might get a much better nonrefundable price directly from a hotel or through another online agency.
  • Once you accept one, many (but not all) BackBid offers are nonrefundable.
  • So far, only a limited number of hotels participate—a “few hundred” in major U.S. cities, according to published sources—and BackBid does not yet deal with any hotels overseas.
  • Along with other OTAs, if its hotel “partners” add post-display mandatory resort or other scam fees, BackBid posts the pre-fee prices, although it discloses mandatory fees in the pre-purchase fine print.

Does it work? I’m not sure. Some of the press reports start out with the usual recounting of an individual traveler’s experience, but I haven’t yet seen many other reports. TripAdvisor, our sister site, posts only five base submissions, each with a handful of comments, but more are of the “any reports?” or “yes, but” variety than outright success stories. And BiddingforTravel had no BackBid posts.

Several other opaque or partially opaque hotel sources have been around a while. Priceline is the original player. Its shtick is that you “bid” what you’re willing to pay for a hotel in a given “star” category and, in a big city, one or more neighborhoods; then within a few minutes Priceline tells you whether some hotel accepted your bid and which hotel it is. If your bid is accepted, you’re committed to a nonrefundable buy. Priceline also has an “express deals” alternative that works like Hotwire. I’ve used Priceline several times with excellent results. You can minimize the risk of overbidding by referring to posted traveler experiences on BiddingforTravel.

Hotwire lists prices, star ratings, and neighborhoods, but you don’t know the name of the hotel until you make a nonrefundable commitment. Several other online travel agencies have adopted this model. I’ve also had good experience with Hotwire.

Private sale agencies such as Jetsetter and our sister site SniqueAway have proliferated in the last two years. You sign up and receive regular emails about special promotions not available to the general public. You know the hotel and price going in, so there are no uncertainties. The biggest drawback, as far as I can tell, is that dates and availability are typically limited, and the “regular price” or “value” claims can be substantially inflated over what you can do through the big online agencies.

I suspect BackBid will take its place among the various business models for “opaque” hotel distribution. It provides still a different distribution model that can satisfy many hotels and many travelers. For now, its reach is limited, but it will probably grow enough to become the preferred option for many of you.

Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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