TAK­ING THE CON­FU­SION OUT OF RATE SHOP­PING

Toronto Star - - SMART MONEY -

Are you re­ally get­ting a bet­ter deal by book­ing through an on­line travel agency in­stead of di­rectly through ho­tel or air­line di­rectly? Maybe. Most ho­tels and air­lines have a “pri­cepar­ity” agree­ment with on­line travel agen­cies; that means they can’t un­der­cut each other.

In other words, the same room in the same ho­tel on the same night is sup­posed to be the same price whether you book it through ho­tels.com or the ho­tel web­site. The same goes for air­fares. There are ways around that, though. Some on­line travel agents of­fer their own dis­counts or coupons, of­fer­ing deals by eat­ing into their own com­mis­sions. Oth­ers buy up blocks of rooms at whole­sale prices and re­sell them at rates they set.

Spe­cialty sites, such as hotwire.com, can of­fer deals by mask­ing the name of the ho­tel un­til af­ter the pur­chase is made. Oth­ers, like the mo­bile app Ho­tel Tonight, spe­cial­ize in last-minute deals, help­ing move rooms that would oth­er­wise re­main empty.

Air­line deals are tougher to find, in part be­cause the air­lines are big­ger and thus have more clout when it comes to ne­go­ti­at­ing price and com­mis­sion with on­line travel agen­cies.

New York-based on­line travel agency OneTravel.com, which en­tered the Ca- na­dian mar­ket in 2015, says it’s able to of­fer cus­tomers a greater choice of car­ri­ers, par­tic­u­larly on in­ter­na­tional flights. It can also of­fer lower prices by mix­ing and match­ing flights, putting cus­tomers on one car­rier head­ing out and another car­rier head­ing back.

But some do­mes­tic flights can ac­tu­ally be pricier to book through on­line travel agen­cies, as most car­ri­ers have stopped pay­ing com­mis­sion, forc­ing agents to charge a fee for their ser­vice. OneTravel’s fee varies from zero to $25 de­pend­ing on the route, the sea­son and de­mand, said Werner Kunz, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Fare­por­tal Inc.

“I wouldn’t say there are no deals on­line. But every­one has sim­i­lar tech­nol­ogy these days. The only time you can save is when book a ho­tel and flight to­gether. Or you book at the last minute,” says Barry Choi, a per­sonal fi­nance blog­ger who writes for Money We Have.

Com­par­ing the sites

Com­par­ing air­fares and ho­tel room rates on­line isn’t easy. The pro­fu­sion and con­fu­sion of choice can mean in­vest­ing con­sid­er­able time and ef­fort when try­ing to find the best deal from a re­li­able provider, ex­perts say.

“Google es­ti­mates the (av­er­age travel) con­sumer vis­its 22 (web) sites be­fore book­ing,” says Sta­tia El­liot, di­rec­tor of hos­pi­tal­ity, food and tourism man­age- ment at the Univer­sity of Guelph.

And while some sites pro­vide a to­tal, in­clud­ing taxes and fees, oth­ers ex­clude them. Some fares are non-re­fund­able. Oth­ers can be can­celled. Some are quoted in the cus­tomer’s home cur­rency, some in the des­ti­na­tion’s cur­rency.

Here’s what a few searches turned up:

Ho­tels

Three-night stay in New York over Victoria Day week­end, May 20-23 at the Hil­ton Gar­den Inn Man­hat­tan-Chelsea. Low­est rate on a king-size room. Ex­pe­dia.com: $912.86 (U.S.) in­clud­ing taxes and fees (or $1,199.68 Cana­dian) Ho­tels.com: $912.86 (U.S.) in­clud­ing taxes and fees (or $1,199.68 Cana­dian) Book­ing.com: $715 (U.S.) plus 14.75 per cent tax and $3.50 (U.S.) New York nightly ho­tel fee (or $934 Cana­dian, plus taxes and fees.) Hil­ton Ho­tel web­site: $912.86 (U.S.) in­clud­ing taxes. (No com­pa­ra­ble Cana­dian fig­ures avail­able on the ho­tel web­site.)

Air­fares

Round-trip flight Toronto-Lon­don. One week stay, June 11—18 for two peo­ple. Low­est air­fare on each site. Air Transat: $1,598 (book­ing di­rectly with air­line) Flighthub: $1,574 (fly­ing with Air Transat) Flight Cen­tre: $1,598 (with Air Transat) Ex­pe­dia.ca: $1,599.06 (with Air Transat)

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