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Sticky legal situations overseas for U.S.-based online booking sites such as Expedia, Priceline, and Booking.com are nothing new. In 2011, Expedia was fined for advertising false prices in Europe, and in 2012, U.K. regulators accused the sites of price fixing and anti-competitive practices.
The latter of those lawsuits was thrown out earlier this year, but foreign entities aren't giving up on enforcing its national laws on digital businesses based overseas. This week, the French government sued Booking.com, claiming that its contracts with properties "prohibit hotels from offering prices for rooms at a price lower than those displayed on Booking.com’s website," once again raising issues of anti-competitive behavior.
The problem with the practice is that the contracts take the power away from the hotel in terms of its ability to set prices and offer deals through its own website. In other words, if you want to do business with any of the online booking companies, you forgo your freedom to offer lower prices to other market segments via other channels, including your own reservation department.
What's that saying? "Two is a coincidence, three is a trend." Yes, that one. Well, we officially have a trend when it comes to last-minute hotel booking apps as Booking.com released Booking.com Tonight for iPhone and IPod Touch. It follows pioneer HotelTonight and Priceline's Tonight Only in the seriously last-minute game (we're talking like, hours or minutes before showing up to claim the same-night reservation), but with one major twist: Booking.com Tonight is international.
It's available in the iTunes app store now, so naturally we downloaded it and put it through the paces. Does it have discounted rooms? Yes. The average discount seemed to be 20%, for those properties that are on sale. You see, this app lists hotel results for hotels whether or not they're on sale, so it's only a little bit improved on the regular Kayak or Priceline booking app. You can see a few of the NY results above.
Scroll to the bottom of the story for an update on the Negotiator mobile apps.
For several years The Negotiator, aka William Shatner, had been the face of Priceline.com chopping his way through TV commercials and magazine ads showing off victorious defeats in cutting down hotel rates. But recently, the Negotiator himself got chopped.
Priceline is doing away with the Negotiator persona but fortunately, they are not doing away with their Name Your Own Price feature which we love so much. Instead, Priceline is putting their
money energy into spotlighting the site's published rates. In the Wall Street Journal today, Priceline's chief marketing officer, Brett Keller, said the company wants the public to know "that you don't have to negotiate to save money on a hotel at priceline.com."
With that in mind, we decided to do a little look-see on Priceline.com today for a hotel in New York. We found the four-star Waldorf-Astoria for $261 a night for February 3-5. We found that same hotel on the same weekend at Expedia.com for $262. The hotel's website, meanwhile, was offering rooms for $299 a night. Although, there was an advance purchase rate for $239 a night offered as well.
A good sign that you've gone and created something useful and effective? You've got copycats which is what HotelTonight is dealing with today as hotel discounter Priceline has announced their newest mobile booking feature--Tonight-Only Deals.
Tonight-Only Deals let travelers book last-minute hotel rooms for that night at Priceline's deeply discounted rates (although no cancellations are allowed and your card is charged immediately.) Multiple night bookings are allowed too.
The deals open at 11am (HotelTonight opens at noon) and are good for hotels in 34 cities. And yes, you can see which hotels they are. No blind booking here with Tonight-Only Deals. Rooms can be booked as late as 11pm or until they sell out. (HotelTonight actually allows you to book until 2am so they've got the upper hand here.)
Hotel Boats / Hotel Video Tours / Palm Springs Hotels / JW Marriott Hotels / Marriott Hotels / Priceline / → All Tags
We've heard of water features in the lobby, but this takes the biscuit… a full on harbor with boats available for guests. Amazing! In fact, as heavyweight Vegas connoisseurs, we thought we'd seen all the ostentatious look-at-me posing a hotel could do - but then, this weekend, we checked into the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in Palm Desert.
Yes, we probably should have guessed something special was on the cards from the flock of flamingos in the palm tree lined drive on arrival. And we'd seen the huge waterway with vaporetto-style boats on the website. But nothing prepared us for the vision that was the boat dock in the lobby.
Yup, there's a mini harbor as part of the massive lobby, with a bar looking over it. And the boats are at your disposal! Hotel guests can catch a free ride between 3-6pm every day or, come the evening, you'll be chauffeured to the restaurant of your choice. It's kind of like how we imagined the Venetian in Vegas would be, until we realized those gondolas are only for paying customers and your $16 scores you a boring little five minute trip on a ride to nowhere. These boats have a purpose, and that purpose is awesomeness.
We've always loved Priceline for their "Name Your Own Price" blind booking feature which gets us incredible steals at good hotels. But we've never used Priceline as a traditional booking site--you know, where you can see the name of the hotel before you book and all that jazz.
For that type of booking, we're a bit dependent on Expedia but we also firmly believe in booking through the hotel directly (if you find a cheaper room rate elsewhere, the hotel usually offers to match it.)
Yet Priceline is throwing something in our faces that we can't ignore--Hotel Freebies. This week, the site rolled out their new Freebies function which allows folks to sort their hotel results by the freebies that are offered such as breakfast, parking, golf and spa credits, upgrades, resort credits, even extra nights and a few others listed under "Hotel Extras."
OpenThread / Adventures in Blind Booking / Hotwire / Priceline / Hotel Loyalty Programs / → All Tags
Sleeping around may not be worth it if you can't earn loyalty points.
If you've been following our Adventures in Blind Booking, you would know that we are on a serious blind booking kick. It's all about the best deals, baby! But we have momentarily come down from our bargain-hunter's high to reflect upon a very serious issue--our loyalty program points.
When we Facebooked our love of blind booking, a fan of ours pointed out that while he loved getting the "awesome deals" on sites like Hotwire and Priceline, usually hotels will not give you loyalty points because you did not book through the hotel.
This is very true. Many hotel loyalty programs state this in their program's Terms and Conditions (See below.) Yet it's never been a big deal for us because we like to sleep around and so for the past few years our loyalty membership cards have collected dust in our desk drawer.
However, there have been exceptions.
The Renaissance Arts Hotel in New Orleans is offering what their breathless press release describes as "the ultimate casino getaway." Using a promotional booking code available on the Marriott site, you can book a room Thursdays through Sundays from now until August 21, 2010.
The deal, such as it is, includes a $10 Harrah's Casino voucher (two whole antes!), $15 a night parking (discounted!), and "rates from $89-$339 per room, per night." We think you can tell from our tone that this isn't going to go well.
When we needed a quickie place to crash for a night in Chicago while still attempting to enjoy our evening by avoiding the super cheapie motels, we naturally turned to a name-your-own-price deal. After great success with our hotel in Berlin before, we opted for Priceline and came out of the negotiations with a 4-star hotel in the River North neighborhood for $80 a night, or $99 including taxes and fees. It was the Hotel Sax, formerly the House of Blues Hotel since it's located directly next to the House of Blues club.
All snuggled into room 1433, on the 14th floor facing down onto the Chicago River, the House of Blues, and directly up at the architecturally stunning Marina City towers, we reveled in the free wifi and spacious bathroom, unlike what we're used to back in New York. For a bigger look at what $99 and a little last-minute planning scored us at the Sax, check out our room video above and stay tuned for tomorrow's full gallery and review.
Can we just say that it's about frickin' time that Priceline, who's been somewhat ahead of the curve since touting their ahead-of-the-curveness through William Shatner, finally gathers their huge amount of hotel data to produce a spiffy map view of their hotels and current rates.
The new tool, unveiled just before the Fourth, features mapped-out and color-coded price quotes from hotels in cities from good old NYC all the way to Sharm El Sheikh. If you've used Google Maps before, this system will be second-nature to you. And if you're headed for a popular destination, the three search scales will majorly help narrow it down: by price range, by star rating, and by guest rating.
We've already had far too much fun using this thing to attempt finding $100-and-under hotels in Venice for this summer's Biennale art festival, and just from looking at the map we see it's possible in several areas of the city or we could splurge to stay at the 4-star palace that is the Boscolo Bellini for $166 a night. Nonetheless, we're super impressed with it and wouldn't be surprised if the map functions ends up as a Priceline widget in the future.
The Days Before Thanksgiving in NYC
$195 or less
Yesterday we rounded up some hotel choices to watch the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. But as it turns out, we need a place to crash three days before Turkey Day. (Turns out our relatives won't be around to host us in Jersey.) And since we're all about finding deals, we searched a few different places to see what we could find. This is what we came up with:
· The Paramount Hotel: $129. Sure this is a ghost of Ian Schrager's boutique hotel heydey but it did get a redesign and rooms are going for $129 a night. One thing to note: availability of renovated rooms is limited so Expedia might be selling off the older ones. Renovated rooms were for sale on Paramount's website at $209 a night. A further price "chop" was found on Priceline for $124.
· Four Points by Sheraton Soho: $195 This hotel just opened in the beginning of September and was asking for rates around the $400 mark. But now you can get a double bed, free internet and flat screen TV for under $200.
· Thompson LES: $170. Quikbook has fast become our go-to site for Thompson Hotel bookings. The site is offering room stays at the newest Thompson property for $170 a night until November 30th. It was a no-brainer, we booked it.
Have a hotel deal you think we should consider? Or have a destination and date where you want us to check for hotel rooms and rates for you? No guarantees on either, but you can try your luck by hitting us here: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include "For Reader Deals" in the subject heading.
[Photo: Vicki's Nature]
Priceline has begun to cut out the cancellation and change fees for any "published price" reservation. These are reservations where you can pick a specific hotel to stay at rather than go through the blind booking process.
Name-your-price hotel bookings however are still iron-clad reservations meaning no refunds, no cancellations and no changes at all.
Additionally, the company said they would lower the booking fees on published-price reservations too. But Travel Weekly says be careful:
Because Priceline lumps hotel taxes and service fees together when displaying prices, the consumer cannot tell how much lower the booking fee is.
Dropping fees and charges is good to hear but just remember to always read the fine print when making any sort of reservation to see just what the cancellation or change policy is.