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Danny Flamberg's Blog
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Reservation now means Paid... · 11/30/2011 12:17 AM, Personal

We have sort of gotten used to airlines charging us now for services that used to be included… while not lowering the original price. In fact, they used the excuse of high fuel prices as the original excuse, but when fuel prices when down, the prices didn’t roll back, did they… hmmm.

But in the past few weeks, I’ve discovered lots of interesting things about hotels that make me not want to trust them any more than I trust the airlines. And the “middlemen”, the modern travel tools, actually are destroying more goodwill than they are creating.

Some examples?

Agent vs. Aggregator
Some sites are travel agents. Travelocity, Expedia, the original ones: they either pre-buy some inventory and sell it to us, the travelers, or when you are ready to buy, they quickly buy the room and turn around and sell it to us. Could we have gotten that room at that price ourselves just by going to the hotel directly? Sure; in fact, we could have gotten a better rate… but the convenience of the tool made us book through them. This seems fine… til you want to change.

You see, you didn’t make the reservations. Hotels.com, Expedia, whatever made the reservation. You can ask them to help you with the change, but they are the owners of the reservation. So watch how this works.

You get a room at ComfortSuites at 5:30pm on hotels.com. At 5:35pm, however, you need to cancel it. You call the hotel, but they tell you that they can’t help you: the reservation is made at hotels.com, so they own it, not you. So you call hotels.com (or waste hours chatting with them or sending email with a turnaround time of 4 hours to get a form reply) to cancel… After 30 minutes of hold, they tell you that they can’t cancel the reservation, it’s all lalready paid for. In facts, you’ve paid hotels.con and they’ve paid the hotel. So unless the hotel refunds the money, hotels.com won’t pay you. But wait, didn’t we just learn that the hotel won’t do anything because hotels.com owns the reservation and you don’t?

At the end of the day, both sides can point the finger at each other and you, the consumer, are out of the money. Even worse: change fees are now mandatory on almost every change, and they still don’t guarantee you a seat on another flight; hotels can charge 1 night’s stay for any change… and they can pick the most expensive night if you have multiple rates. It just goes on and on. You agree to all this, btw, the moment you pay: it’s all there in the clickwrap you agreed to. You did read all that, didn’t you?

Note the complete imbalance: the planes can overbook and then bump you. The hotel can be out of rooms even though you have a “reservation”, and they can force you to stay at another “sister” location. You rarely get much if any compensation for this… but when you try to change things on them, well…

Ok, enough ranting. You know you have to travel, so what can you do to mitigate this? Kayak.com is still an affiliate play, linking you back to the branded sites of the provider, as is the wonderful Farecast, now Bing Travel. But the big guys: Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity… well, I’d say use them to find a deal, but book it directly with the company you are traveling with or staying with. Otherwise, you are just setting yourself up for pain the moment anything changes. And if there’s one thing that’s constant these days, it’s change.

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