It’s hard to believe we’ve been able to book travel online for nearly 25 years, ever since Travelocity first sprung onto the scene in 1995. Today, there are many travel booking sites at the ready when we want to search, book, and pay for hotel rooms, flights, or rental cars. There’s Expedia, Orbitz, Hotwire, Hotels.com, Trivago, HomeAway, Travelocity…
There are so many options! Or are there?
You Don’t Have as Many Options as You May Think
Hold onto your hats, friends. Every one of the online travel agencies (or OTAs) listed above—from Expedia to Hotels.com to Travelocity—is owned by the same parent company, Expedia Group. Given this information, it should come as no surprise to learn that many of the remaining players—Booking.com, Priceline, Kayak, and more—are owned by Booking Holdings Inc.
Expedia Group and Booking Holdings are giants. Both companies have grown rapidly in recent years as a result of multiple acquisitions. By 2018, they together made up for over 70% of the OTA market. That’s a lot of market concentration to sit between two CEOs! More on that topic, here if you want a full picture of who owns who.
Same Ownership, Similar Layout
If you’ve ever wondered why so many of the travel booking websites look pretty much the same, now you know. Most of them have the same ownership. Try it for yourself: On your browser, pull up Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz in three separate tabs. Aside from different background photos and varying colors, the three sites are near replicas of each other. They have almost identical navigation bars, the same search interfaces, and they yield very similar results. Notice how Orbitz and Travelocity even have the same 10% off offer across the top.
For our search of a two-night stay in Dallas, all three websites pulled up identical listings for four out of the top five search result spots. Even the prices are identical. So, if you thought you were price comparing by hopping from one travel site to another, think again.
The Truth About OTA Price Comparisons
We all want to save money. It’s just human nature. So, we scour the internet in search of which site has the best rates. But as we’ve learned here, searching across all the popular travel booking sites is not likely to show you much of a variety in price. There are a few exceptions, but there aren’t many and here’s why.
OTA’s get their rates from the hotels. As a part of this contract, neither side is allowed to undercut the other’s prices. For example, if a Hampton Inn is selling its rooms for $118 a night on their site, then an OTA who lists that hotel also has to sell those rooms for $118 a night. This is called “rate parity,” and these agreements are meant to help regulate the hotel market.
What this means for you is that comparison shopping from one OTA site to the next is almost always a waste of time.
Beware of Their Sales Tactics Too
Another thing that caught our eye during our side-by-side comparisons was that so many of these OTA sites use the same pressure-selling tactics to sell hotel rooms. Booking.com is known by many users for its colorful tags that litter their search results and jazz up hotel listings to make them look more desirable. While they might be the most notorious for these tactics, they aren’t the only ones.
In our search for Dallas hotels, we found the same Fairfield Inn & Suites listing on Travelocity, Orbitz, and Expedia. For each listing, each site included a bright green tag that read, “We have 5 left at” $109.
Tags like this are meant to drive urgency through scarcity: If you think there are only 5 rooms left at that hotel, you’ll be more likely to pull the trigger on booking that stay sooner rather than later. This would be helpful information, if it were true. But unfortunately, OTA sites can’t give you a full picture of the hotel’s availability because they don’t own that inventory. The hotel property itself may actually have plenty of rooms available but have only commissioned a few for that site to sell. Next time you see one of these tags on an OTA site—or worse, a claim that the hotel has sold out—check the hotel’s site for accuracy. You won’t find any pressure-selling tactics there.
A New Way to Search
We encourage you to step away from the gimmicks and the sameness of the OTAs. Take in a breath of fresh air and begin a new day with a refreshingly honest and transparent way to search for hotels: Roomkey.com.
We’re different than OTAs. We’re not a third-party booking site like they are; we’re a hotel search platform. Once you find the hotel you want, we hand you over to the hotel’s site itself so you can complete your booking at the source. Booking direct like this is the best way to ensure that your room will be reserved without any issues from an OTA.
Booking direct is also the best way to find discounted rates for your stay. Remember the rate parity agreements we talked about? Well, lucky for travelers, there is a loophole that allows hotels to offer lower prices to some of their customers. The rate-parity clause only restricts the rates that are publicly available, meaning the rates that any ole Joe Schmoe would get if he went to Hilton.com or Expedia.com. But private rates aren’t obligated to stay at parity. This means that hotels can offer lower rates to those who are members of their loyalty programs.
Roomkey is special because it is the only hotel comparison site that allows searchers to compare these low loyalty rates from multiple hotel chains in one search. We like to think of ourselves as the best of both worlds. You get the OTA-like convenience of checking multiple hotel chains at once but with added the security, discounts, and perks of booking directly with the hotel.
Try us out next time you want a break from the OTA clones, and you might just save money while you’re at it.
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