Category: hotels


Bursting the dotcom Bubble

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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I love Disney World. I’m a 27 year old woman and I’m not afraid to admit that fact. I’m also a 27 year old woman without kids, nor do I ever plan on having kids. This aversion to a family life can pose problems if you want to take a Disney vacation. So, I’ll go through my last Disney trip and give you tips I used and those I learned along the way.

The biggest and easiest way to enjoy an adult Disney vacation is to go during the low season. It shouldn’t be any secret that while kids are in school they obviously won’t be at Disney World in gigantic numbers. There will still be large numbers of people, just nowhere near as many. It’s best to avoid holidays of any kind, so avoid:

-Christmas Break from mid-December through the first week of January. Not only is this the busiest time of year for Disney, it’s almost the most expensive. It’s got it’s own price bracket that’s more expensive than even the “peak” season. So unless you absolutely MUST see the Christmas decorations, make your holiday plans elsewhere.

-Mid-February through August. These months flucuate between being called “regular” and “peak” seasons. Starting around Valentine’s Day and the 3-day President’s Day weekend, Disney World gets busier. Once past Febraury, it’s Spring Break season, followed almost immediately by the summer months. And don’t be fooled by them calling summer the “regular” season. It may be “regular” because it’s when they have their average sized crowds, but man is it crowded. It’s prime family vacation season, so there’s kids EVERYWHERE!

So that knocks out 2/3 of the year. Yes, it looks bleak. But again, since you’re an adult without familial ties, it’s easier to take a vacation in January, September, October and November. Also, the weather these months are wonderful. It’s the tail end of hurricane season and around 90 degrees once September rolls around, but it will only get cooler until next spring.

There are also a couple of considerations for travelling during the low season. The parks are open for shorter hours because of the lower business. And then there’s Extra Magic Hours. The parks all open earlier or stay open later for guests of the Disney World resorts on a rotating schedule. Whichever park is the Extra Magic Hours park will be the busiest park that day.

Now, there’s a whole other set of considerations when looking into a place to stay. The cost of a hotel is something you’re unable to avoid unless you live in the greater Orlando area. But with it being such a tourist hot-spot, you have loads of options. You can stay at one of the many resorts on Disney property or somewhere off-site. The last couple of times I was there I was there with family, so we used our timeshare to get a condo on the Marriott World Center property just on the other side of I-4 from Disney World. Not everyone has that luxury, but if you can swing it, it’s a really nice way to stay in the Orlando area. You basically have an apartment, so you can cook for yourself and not spend so much money on food in the parks. We had breakfast before we left and then a late dinner when we got home at night, then lunch and a snack at the parks.

If you want to stay on Disney property, you have lots of options. The last time I was there and stayed on-site I was at the Port Orleans Riverside resort. The resorts are nice because of the added bonus of free transportation. If you’re trying to keep costs to a minimum, you can skip the added cost of a rental car because once you get to the property, there’s a bus that will take you anywhere you’d want to go on Disney property. Plus you have a safe ride in case you imbibe a little too much at Epcot or Downtown Disney. If you’re staying off-site, there may or may not be a shuttle to the parks, plus there’s the $12 a day parking lots at the parks. But there’s also greater variety of places to stay off-site to fit your expectations and price range. It has the second highest number of hotels in America. Only Las Vegas has more options.

I know next time I can afford to go I’ll be staying at the Polynesian resort. That’s just my personal preference. It’s tropical and I love tropical locales. But there’s resorts to fit just about everyone’s budget and tastes. Of course, the nicer places are more expensive. The Animal Kingdom Lodge looks absolutely stunning and sits amidst it’s own personal animal preserve. You can wake up and watch giraffes walk by while eating your breakfast, but you obviously have to pay for such a luxury. Both the Polynesian and Animal Kingdom Lodge are “Deluxe” hotels and are a hop, skip and jump away from their respective parks, so even in Disney World, it’s all about location, location, location. The rooms are also bigger and more like suites than standard hotel rooms.

In the “Moderate” range, you’re paying less, getting less and getting a bit further from the parks. This is what the Port Orleans Riverside falls under. The “Value” level hotels are the cheapest and offer the least amenities. If you’re going solely for the parks, these price brackets aren’t bad ways to go since you’re going to be spending a minimal amount of time at your resort. These rooms are your standard hotel rooms.

Then there’s the mack-daddy of the resorts…the “Deluxe Villas.” Most are just special areas in existing resorts, but these are essentially condos. If you want a real, relaxing vacation with room to spread out, this is the way to go.

Just as a point of reference, here’s some pricing for the high and low seasons, using the cheapest room option.

Jambo House (Deluxe Villa): Value season-$280; Regular season-$330; Peak season-$410; Holiday season-$465

Beach Club Resort (Deluxe): Value season-$335; Regular season-$385; Peak season-$465; Holiday season-$545

Coronado Springs Resort (Moderate): Value season-$159; Regular season-$180; Peak season-$204; Holiday season-$244

All-Star Movies Resort (Value): Value season-$82; Regular season-$102; Peak season-$129; Holiday season-$164

Of course, this is just a point of reference. If you want prices for a specific date or a different resort, the Disney website can help you out with that. But you can plainly see that the low season is best, not only for crowd levels, but for the prices on hotel rooms.

So I hope that helps those you who, like me, still love the Disney magic. This is only a first post in a series, so check back for posts about an adult take on the different parks.