Dear Mr. Greenberg,
When I didn’t find a chain hotel with available rooms for a recent stay, I decided to try hotels.com because I wasn’t familiar with the hotels in the area (Ocean City, MD).
The rate they quoted seemed a bit high, but since it was about two weeks before our trip, I went ahead and made the reservation. Only when I actually got to the hotel did I find that the hotels.com rate was over 38 percent HIGHER than the hotels standard rate. (hotels.com: $406.26 versus hotel: $294.30)
Their so called “price guarantee” policy states that you have to notify them within 24 hours of making the booking.
I complained about what I felt was price gouging, and the first responder lied to me and claimed that the hotel statement didn’t include taxes, which it did.
They refused to respond to a follow-up, in fact their email is set to reject any responses to their messages. You have to go through an online form again.
So I eventually went to the BBB. The response sent to the BBB contained another lie, claiming that the hotel statement showed hotels.com’s negotiated rate and that I wasn’t supposed to have been shown this amount. Yet, that was the rate quoted to me as I checked in, and also shown on the hotel’s Web site later.
Although this discrepancy isn’t quite as great as it was for my weekend, you can still see what an exorbitant increase they charge over the hotels rate…a hotel rate of $326.70 before taxes and a hotels.com rate of $400 before taxes.
I would never use an outfit such as this again, and would heartily recommend to your viewers that they not lock themselves into anything from hotels.com before exhausting all other resources first. I also found that the hotel had rates for this coming week while hotels.com showed nothing available.
This isn’t the first letter we’ve had about best price guarantees (“Best Price Guarantees Can Be Tricky”). However, while your situation is a frustrating one, there isn’t much that can be resolved because you didn’t claim his price guarantee within 24 hours.
But your situation does beg the question, how do sites like hotels.com and other booking sites come up with their prices versus a hotel’s advertised rate? Hotels.com spokesperson Maureen Carrig responds:
Hotels.com facilitates the hotel reservation booking process for customers. We negotiate room rates with hotel suppliers, and provide this rate information as well as the opportunity to book hotel rooms both on our site and on the phone.
Hotels.com does not purchase inventory from hotels to [re-]sell to customers. Instead, hotels make their inventory available to hotels.com so that travelers can book through us …
[The reason for a price difference between hotels.com and a hotel] is that a hotel can adjust their rates for a variety of reasons. It could be promotional or seasonal. But if someone is on our site and finds that there is a lower price elsewhere, we do invite them to contact us and we’ll issue them a refund of the difference.
Our advice? Always do as much research in advance as possible—that means comparing prices on booking sites such as hotels.com and the hotel’s site itself. If you do all your research at one time, you can book the lowest price, or you’ll have that 24-hour window to recoup any price disparities by taking advantage of a price guarantee.
But most importantly … why not pick up the phone and call the hotel directly? Often you can negotiate a discounted rate if you talk to a human being.
For more reader issues with Hotels.com, check out “Hotels.com: Twilight Zone?”.
For more on booking hotels and ideas on where to stay, check out our Hotels & Accommodations section.