TAKING THE CONFUSION OUT OF RATE SHOPPING
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:
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.)
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)