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By Gary Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 4, 2007

Where should travelers look online for discounted hotel rooms?

Three likely places to start: Hotwire ( http://www.hotwire.com/), Expedia.com ( http://www.expedia.com/) and Travelocity ( http://www.travelocity.com/). In its annual rating of independent online travel agencies, released in November, the marketing information company J.D. Power and Associates ranked eight popular Web-based agencies that offer discounted hotel rooms and other travel services. In a survey of 6,800 online shoppers, participants were asked to rate the agencies in six categories: best prices, ease of booking, usefulness of the information on the Web site, availability of booking options, ease of navigation and appearance of the Web site. The three agencies above gained the highest points in the order they are listed.

The other five agencies included followed in this order: Priceline.com ( http://www.priceline.com/), CheapTickets ( http://www.cheaptickets.com/), Yahoo Travel ( http://www.travel.yahoo.com/), Orbitz ( http://www.orbitz.com/) and Hotels.com ( http://www.hotels.com/). They're worth perusing, too.

But the online hunt for hotel deals shouldn't stop there. Several dozen Internet sites promise sharp reductions off hotel rack rates; any of them might offer a deal. The agencies negotiate special rates with hotels, in most cases add a booking fee (agencies decline to reveal the precise amount of the fee, but it ranges from $2 to $20 per booking) and offer the rooms to the public at a discounted rate. How big the discount is varies according to the hotel and other factors. Priceline.com pledges cuts of up to half off published hotel rates. Orbitz promises up to 70 percent off. But sometimes lower-profile brokers, such as the Hong Kong-based Asia-Hotels.com ( http://www.asiahotels.com/) have the better rates -- although they may not find you a room in Hoboken.

New sites keep popping up like dandelions. One, Hotelrooms365 ( http://www.hotelrooms365.com/), has a rebate program: Guests who book with the site and spend a minimum amount get cash back. Another new site,

TabletHotels ( http://www.tablethotels.com/), has an impressive range of deluxe properties worldwide, many at good prices. And Hotelbook.com ( http://www.hotelbook.com/) features only independent properties.

Don't forget to check the hotels' own Web sites. Chains and independent hotels, locked in a struggle with third-party sites, often try to better the rates offered by outside bookers. In a recent search for a room in Paris for early February, five agencies offered four different rates for the same room on the same nights in the popular Hotel California Paris Champs Elysees. The highest was $446 on Octopustravel.com; the lowest, $278 on Asiahotels.com. But the hotel's site ( http://www.hotel-california-paris.com/) offered the lowest rate: $271 a night. Many properties even post a lowest-rate guarantee: They will match a better price if one can be found elsewhere on the Internet.

Savvy shoppers often use the booking sites as a bargaining chip: They find a deal for a hotel on a third-party site such as Expedia or Hotels.com and check the hotel's site (or call directly) to see if it will match or better the rate. One advantage to this approach is that if rates drop at the last minute, travelers can usually renegotiate with the hotel if they reserved directly rather than through a third-party agency.

Before agreeing to any deal found on the Internet, click through to find the final rate, including all taxes and other fees. And pay attention to the fine print on changing or canceling reservations; sites have different policies.

Also, consider checking aggregator sites, which help guide clickers to the places offering the best deals in a particular city. Two of the most comprehensive: Kayak.com and

Sidestep.com. Kayak has links to more than 154,000 hotels worldwide; fill in dates and locales, and it lists dozens of options and directs you to the sites or third-party agencies where reservations can be made. It also lists different prices offered for the same property by different agencies. In a recent search for a Comfort Inn in New York, Kayak showed that three agencies were offering two different rates; the best was offered by the hotel chain's site. Sidestep, drawing from its roster of 150,000 hotels, also provides a list of properties available in a destination according to price, number of stars or other measures. It provides links to the sites or third-party agencies where reservations can be made.

Here are the best-known hotel booking sites and their pros and cons, along with examples of rates offered last week.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company


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