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New Hotel Booking Options

SmarterTravel

Looking for the best hotel deals? Every few months some new online hotel booking agency claims it has the best system. Unfortunately, some are “me, too,” rather than genuinely innovative, but truly new ideas crop up from time to time.

One genuinely innovative new website is BidGo Travel, which is applying the eBay principle to vacation rentals. Owners list a property open for bid at a starting or reserve price below the regular rate, along with a “buy now” price. Potential renters can bid up from the starting rate or buy at the buy now price. One current example—a five-room, four-bath beachfront property near Myrtle Beach—posts a minimum $1,000 bid for a week and a $1,400 “buy it now” price. The current site is in beta stage, and it posts only limited listings: You can access up to a current 495 rentals, total, but only a handful of active auctions.

My take on BidGo is that the idea is intriguing. The eBay system certainly works, for both buyers and sellers, and I see no reason why it wouldn’t work with vacation rentals. For now, in terms of listings, BidGo is minuscule compared with HomeAway or FlipKey, but give it some time and you might find it very useful.

Another innovative agency, Hotel Power recently launched with a new buy-in system: Pay $49.95 a year and get in on the “juiciest deals globally,” up to 70 percent off rack rates. My SmarterTravel colleague Dara Continenza checked it out and found that Hotel Power did, in fact, often provide lower rates than the big online travel agencies but by margins of 10 percent to 35 percent, not anything like 70 percent. Also, she found that discounts were concentrated in high-end hotels; deals at mid-level and budget hotels were elusive. (Read her review here.) Another feature: Hotel Power adds a credit on some bookings that you can use toward various hotel charges, as well as some cash-back deals. Her overall take—and mine—is that Hotel Power is worth a try, if you plan to spend a few hundred dollars or more on upscale hotels over the course of a year. But don’t ever assume it’s the best deal you can get: Always check other options.

A new-to-me online agency, Germany-based hotel.info, brags it was nominated as “website of the year.” The site’s main feature is its “only one search field” system that lets you narrow your search from the beginning by entering any location, facility, attraction, terminal, or venue of interest. Enter, for example, “La Guardia,” and you immediately find airport area hotels; “Emeryville Amtrak station” gets you directly to nearby accommodations. Beyond that, the website seems to provide about the same prices as Booking.com, Expedia, or any of the others, although it failed to note nonrefundable rates at some hotels that the other sites display. At 250,000 hotels worldwide, it lists only about half as many as Booking.com, and its inventory in big U.S. cities is not as robust as the other giant sites’ inventories.

When looking for a specific location, I prefer map-based searches over menu-based searches, but I admit I’m a map dork. And I have one knock on hotel.info: Unlike some other systems, when I checked for some Waikiki hotels, it did not even mention mandatory “resort fees” during the booking process.

All in all, my take is that hotel.info is pretty much par for the course among hotel agencies. Use it if you like its simple menu-driven search entry, but don’t expect any price miracles.

Which leads to the overall takeaway: Price differences among the major booking agencies are apt to be narrow to nonexistent, although pay-to-book Hotel Power does sometimes find better deals than the others. But the very best hotel deals are still likely to be the ones you find through opaque pricing on Hotwire, Priceline, and opaque buying options on other large booking agencies.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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