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Hotels, by the Booking

Earlier this year, Priceline.com obtained majority interest in Travelweb, a site originally launched to give Marriott and other major U.S. hotel chains more control over their inventories. Since the change, the only chain with a financial stake in the site is InterContinental. Now broadening its scope far beyond the major chains, the site offers discounts at properties worldwide, including independents.

In the past few months, the major online brokers have also introduced concierge features designed to help travelers plan their trips. Travelers can book Broadway tickets on Expedia, for instance, and theme park tickets and other excursions on Travelocity. Here's a rundown of the various methods of booking a hotel, and their pluses and minuses.

Searching for the lowest rate at New York's Waldorf-Astoria, we found a range of prices, from $379 (via Hotels.com) to $295 (calling the hotel directly). (Waldorf-Astoria)

_____Way to Go Guide_____
Travel Agents, With Reservations
Booking a Flight: A Seven-Step Plan
Hotels, by the Booking
Catching the Bus
Taking the Train
How to Renew or Apply for a Passport
Specialty Travel
Before You Go: A Traveler's Toolbox

Discount Hotel Booking Sites

Hotel booking sites negotiate a special rate with hotels, add a fee and then offer rooms to the public. Many sites require consumers to pay for rooms in advance through their secure Web sites. All excluding Orbitz charge a fee -- usually rolled into the total bill -- for booking rooms. The rate at Hotels.com, for example, ranges between 75 cents and $2 a day. The terms for canceling or changing reservations vary depending on the hotel's policy; usually if you cancel less than 24 hours in advance, you're charged for one night's stay.

The major players:

Hotels.com. This agency offers rooms in 12,500-plus hotels in more than 400 destinations throughout North America, the Caribbean and in several European countries and Hong Kong. Besides New York, Los Angeles and other big cities, it has accommodations in some smaller places (such as Tulsa) not covered elsewhere. But some users complain that making changes or obtaining refunds is difficult and costly.

Quikbook.com. This site features 1,300 properties in 75 destinations throughout North America, Europe and the Caribbean. One strong feature is that the quality checks of the properties offered is reliable. Another is that most bookers pay the hotel directly at the end of their stay. But for serious budget travelers, the rates offered are not always the lowest.

Orbitz.com. Offers rooms at 16,500 properties worldwide. A particularly user-friendly site that allows travelers to compare the rates and star levels of hotels. However, it does not include as many independent properties as other sites.

Expedia.com. Offers rooms in more than 2,000 destinations, the largest selection of any U.S.-based broker. But canceling or changing reservations is more complicated than it should be.

Travelocity.com. Has some of the best deals, especially if hotels are booked in packages that include airfare. Here, too, canceling or changing reservations can be a hassle.

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