We all like to save money, right? Travel on a dime? I mean, who wouldn’t? That leaves us more money for tchotchkes and more trips, one would imagine. I’m going to go ahead and blow the lid off the conspiracy I’ll call the bargain sites.

With more families gearing up for summer vacations, they are increasingly going to sites like Expedia, Travelocity, et. al to book “deals” on hotel rooms to save some money. Let this serve as a warning if you are planning to go down a similar route.

Let’s use my place of work as an example. Tonight if you were to book directly through me, the rate would be $159.95. You would find similar rates at most of the travel deal websites. However, it’s currently going for $180 at Expedia, which they absurdly call the “Expedia Special Rate.” And this is before taxes! Once you figure those it, it comes out to $208.06 as opposed to the $185.55 you would be paying if you booked directly through the hotel.

These sites don’t look like such a great option now, do they? They suck you in under false pretenses. They say you are paying lower rates, which I can honestly say is true when compared to people who book their rooms directly with us. But remember how I said most of the sites are offering the same rate for rooms tonight? That’s because the difference between the rate you are paying to the site and what we are charging the site for your room is their profit. I’m not against anyone running their business like this, however if you are looking to save a few bucks I would strongly recommend against these sites as they don’t really save you money. If you really want to save money, look at the hotel’s website. More than likely they have a pre-pay rate that is lower than the usual rate for that evening.

A very, very strong word of warning, however. Once you book your room through these websites, you are essentially on your own. Here’s a secret for the readers to digest. When you book a room, you are really booking whatever room is available. If all that is left with us is a smoking king when you booked a nonsmoking double with the site, guess what room you’re really getting? The smoking king. They want your money, so they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear to get you to book. And once they have your money you’ll be hard-pressed to get it back if you want to cancel.

The way the contracts work with most of these sites is that we give them lower rates on the rooms, which they will then book with the general public. When they book rooms, they are guaranteeing us those rooms as being sold. If you are wanting to cancel your room because you didn’t get the room you thought you reserved, the people at the desk won’t issue a refund. You know why? We don’t have your money. You paid Expedia directly, and we turn around and charge them for these rooms. When people want to check out and get refunds, we tell them to talk to whatever site they booked through. The site will then have one of their customer service reps call us to see if there’s anything to be done. 99.99% of the time, nothing can be done because they were the ones providing false information to the guest since the guest has almost always had no contact with anyone at the hotel.

So about that refund? Well, Expedia will tell you that they will happily refund your money as long as the hotel doesn’t charge them. Guess what? Not gonna happen. You, Sir Travel-Site, promised us revenue from said room, so we look at it the same way we look at a cancellation. It’s not our fault the guest didn’t get the room they were promised. And since the site was the one who directly booked this room, they are the ones getting hit with the “cancellation” fees, not the guest. The sites are greedily holding on to your money, despite what they may tell you about the hotel stubbornly not issuing a refund. Like I said, the site has your money, not us at the hotel. They don’t want to be stuck giving you a refund and paying the “cancellation” penalty.

My honest advice? Call the hotel ahead of time. Check what their rate is vs. the “bargain” sites. See if the room you want is available if you are insistent on booking your room through those sites. And once you do book, call the hotel back to make sure they booked the right room for you. If there was an error, see if you can work it out with the hotel to make sure you are in the right room. If nothing can be done on the hotel’s side of the arrangement, ask the hotel about their cancellation policy. The hotel’s cancellation policy with dictate what happens when you call the site about canceling. For example, Expedia’s policy is that if there are any cancellation fees, you are responsible for them. By finding out what those fees are, if any, ahead of time you know how the conversation should go. If they try to fleece you and jack up the cancellation fees, call their bluff. Don’t trust these sites to make sure everything goes according to plan, because sometimes it doesn’t and it just leads to frustration.

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