Hotel deals harder to find as third-party travel sites mirror each others' rates

Michael Finney Image
Wednesday, October 11, 2023
Hotel deals harder to find as third-party sites mirror rates
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According to some travel experts, searching multiple sites for travel deals is now just a waste of time.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Searching online for a great hotel room rate has become an obsession for many travelers. So Bay Area Consumers' Checkbook decided to look at those deal sites and see what they would find.

"After doing 2,000 searches we found we were -- for the most part -- wasting our time," says Kevin Brasler from Bay Area Consumers' Checkbook. "Most of the prices we saw over and over again, no matter which website we went to, whether we called the hotel desk directly, whether we visited the hotel's website."

I did a quick online check this morning, looking to book a room at the Fairmont in San Francisco for two days later this month.

At the hotel's website, the price was $371.50 a night.

At Travelocity, fifty cents more at $372.00.

Kayak, which promises to check hundreds of sites, listed the same price: $372.00.

"Most of those websites are owned by one of two companies," says Brasler. "One is Expedia, the other is Booking Holdings, and they, together with hotels, have come up with agreements that essentially say they're all going to charge the same prices for the same stays across all the different booking platforms."

Yesterday I was talking with tourists visiting San Francisco when I ran into a Dallas man named Shalim Maik, who in the hotel business. He confirms those arrangements.

I asked him, "They say there is no difference in prices anymore?"

"Which is absolutely correct," Maik told me, "because the brands dictate that to us. We can't have different prices on different website."

"There are a handful of ways to get a discount. One is to book a nonrefundable hotel room, a bit risky but there are discounts of around 10%. Signing up for loyalty programs can, sometimes, get you a 10% discount. Costco Travel has discounted rooms, but it is fairly limited," says Brasler.

Checkbook's Brasler says the best prices are the mystery deals found on Priceline and Hotwire where you don't know the exact hotel until after you have booked and paid.

"The reason I think these deals are worth looking at is that it was the only way we significantly cut our costs," Brasler says. "On average we found that booking one of these mystery deals saved us about 25 to 30% off most stays."

Now here is a special deal: Bay Area Consumers' Checkbook is a subscription service, but you can read the entire investigation for free here.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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