The other reason not to book your summer vacation at work


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It's finally starting to look like winter is over — but if planning your summer vacation is on your mind, don't book your hotel until you get home from work tonight.

In this case, the reason has nothing to do with being productive at work or saving personal purchases for personal time. Rather, it's because you're less likely to be satisfied with your vacation digs if you book the hotel while you're on the job, a new study finds.

In a new paper recently accepted to be published in the Journal of Marketing Research, researchers from the business schools at Rice University and Iowa State University examined the satisfaction of consumers who made hotel reservations via an online travel site. They found that the vacationers who made purchases during business hours were more likely to choose higher quality hotels, and therefore more expensive ones, than those who booked their stay on off hours or weekends. (The hotels were all booked for travel that included weekends or major holidays, so were presumed to be for leisure trips.)

When the researchers then went on to look at how satisfied customers were with the hotels they reserved, those who made the purchases during business hours were also less satisfied with their experience. That may seem counterintuitive: A stay in a nicer hotel would presumably lead to a better experience, on average.

Ajay Kalra, a professor at Rice University and one of the paper's co-authors, is careful to say his paper did not study why the correlation exists, but he speculates that people choose to book nicer hotels during work hours because it's a time when we tend to be more fatigued. That state leads us to make purchases without thinking them through entirely, such as spending more on a hotel than we should.

Moreover, the value of a vacation seems higher when you're making decisions about it from the office. "This happens while you're working," Kalra says. "The appeal of vacation induces people to spend more."

As a result, he theorizes, people's expectations are even higher than if they'd booked a hotel more in line with their budget. "People anticipate a lot more for these vacations," he says. "Then when they actually go, they get a little disappointed. It's below their expectations."

Kalra's study also looked at the relationship between how satisfied people are with their hotel stays and two other variables: when they booked the trip, and how far they traveled for it. The study found that people were more satisfied when they booked far in advance rather than at the last minute (the "pain of paying" effect diminishes over time) and when they didn't travel as far to get there (people booked nicer hotels for these "bigger trips" and therefore, again, likely had higher expectations and more disappointment).

The study was based on a random sample of 4,582 hotel bookings for leisure travel in 2008 and 2009, roughly 35 percent of which were made during business hours. Did it surprise Kalra that so many leisure stays were being booked from the office? "Not really," he says, remembering a survey he came across that said employees spend two hours a day, on average, doing personal business at work. "People are doing a lot of other stuff during work hours."

Read also:

I don't need a study to tell me to take a vacation

The catch of having an unlimited vacation policy

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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