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New Niche Hotel Search Engines

SmarterTravel

Despite the dominance of a few giant online hotel booking and search systems, a few niche operators can sometimes steer you to deals you might miss if you rely only on the big guys.

If you’ve followed the recent developments, you know that Expedia and Priceline now dominate a huge share of the online hotel booking and search space. Expedia, which just acquired Orbitz, had previously founded or acquired online agencies Travelocity, CheapTickets, Hotels.com, Hotwire, Egencia, Venere, and dozens of other online agencies around the world, plus metasearch website Trivago. Meanwhile, Priceline owns Booking.com, Agoda, and RentalCars, plus metasearch Kayak. Although these subsidiaries appear to operate separately, they share much of the back-office software and databases that drive them. But they don’t control the entire marketplace—yet. You might find some better results with the smaller players.

GoSeek.com is a metasearch engine that searches through the “usual suspects” of the big agencies, then identifies those hotels that are offering coupon, mobile, AAA, or senior specialized promotions. Although it displays many deals openly on your initial search, goSeek also operates on a membership basis, displaying “subscriber rate too low to show” for some hotels. On a sample search for a Boston room in mid-March, it showed some sort of promotional deals for 83 out of the total of 194 hotels. The displays also post comparison “their rates” figures from the other search systems. Some of the coupon deals are trivial—like $1 off for a Doubletree Suites hotel—but others are substantial.

HotelPower.com is a metasearch system that requires an annoying paid “membership” for access to the best deals ($4.95 14-day trial, $49.95 per year, MasterCard and Visa only). Membership provides cash back up to 5 percent on some bookings and other promotions not openly displayed. When I checked, most of the best deals I saw were prepaid and nonrefundable, but if you’re willing to commit, some of the prices were very good.

AllTheRooms.com is a metasearch system that claims to be the “world’s most comprehensive” listing of accommodations. Although I can’t verify that claim, its roster of 1,251 possibilities in Boston looks like most of what’s available. The advantage to this website is that it searches some obscure booking agencies that most of you wouldn’t consider, such as Frankfurt-based Hotel.de. It also includes some Groupon offerings.

If you’re interested in a vacation rental but are concerned about paying for a property that isn’t up to what an online posting claims about it, consider renting through Vacasa.com. In addition to arranging rentals, Vacasa is also a professional property manager, which means that it monitors and maintains every property it lists. As is usually the case with managed rentals, you generally pay more than you’d pay with a rental posted on a listing website but arranged directly with an owner, but a “curated” site such as Vacasa means you’re less likely to encounter any unpleasant surprises. Coverage is reasonably good in California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, but limited in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Texas, and Vermont; the only foreign locations show a few properties in Belize and Mexico.

On the other hand, if you want the widest choices, Tripping.com is a metasearch system for vacation rentals that culls offers from all the big online postings, including several the giants, HomeAway/VRBO, TripAdvisor, FlipKey, and AirBnb, along with such smaller outfits as Bedycasa, Roomerama, and Wimdu. Unfortunately, it also picks up a fair number of B&Bs, but you find that unwanted clutter on most vacation rental posting websites.

If your rental preference is a timeshare unit in a large resort, TimeshareMarketplace.com is a good place to start looking. And if you like the Priceline “name your price” or eBay “bidding” approach, two relatively new online agencies employ that model: BidGoTravel.com and BidMyRental.com. At this point neither seems to have many rental properties up for auction, but the idea is intriguing for the future.

Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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