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Competitive hotel prices are largely ‘an illusion,’ consumer group says

"It seems like there's so much variety and competition out there, but all of that is an illusion," said Kevin Brasler, executive editor at Checkbook.org. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON — Just two companies control about 95 percent of the travel booking sites online and that makes for a striking lack of price variation for hotel rooms, according to a local consumer’s group.

Washington Consumer’s Checkbook evaluated more than 3,500 hotel rates on 18 different booking sites such as Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, TripAdvisor, Kayak, Hotwire and Trivago.

“It seems like there’s so much variety and competition out there, but all of that is an illusion,” said Kevin Brasler, executive editor at Checkbook.org. “Almost all the sites out there, competing for your travel booking dollars, are owned by either Expedia or a company called Booking Holdings.”

Brasler said there’s really no competition between Expedia companies and Booking Holdings companies.

Each of those parent companies control prices at individual hotel companies by telling them that to be included on the booking sites, they have to agree to offer the same rooms at the same price across all different booking options.

If you have time to do some digging around, every now and then Checkbook found good deals at aggregator sites Kayak and Trivago, Brasler said.

“Mystery rates” can save big bucks though — if you can handle a bit of uncertainty.

The Hotwire Hot Rate and Priceline Express Deal offer deeply discounted rooms, but don’t reveal the exact hotel or address until after you’ve paid to make the reservation.

“You can save on average about 38 percent booking these mystery rates and that’s a pile of money given that you really don’t see significant savings anywhere else that we looked,” Brasler said.

He said you usually can figure out the mystery hotel by comparing location, amenities and ratings with area hotel websites.

Hotwire, for example, makes that process a little easier because it will provide TripAdvisor scores.

As a frequent traveler, Brasler said he always uses the mystery rate option.

The quality of the hotel is defined during the search and he has no preference across properties as long as it’s a “nice” place.

Through a special arrangement with Washington Consumers’ Checkbook, WTOP.com readers can have a look at more Checkbook price saving recommendations for hotels for a limited time.

Consumers’ Checkbook/Center for the Study of Services is an independent, nonprofit consumer organization founded in 1974. It has been an innovator in providing information to help consumers make smarter choices for more than 40 years.


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