Hunting for a summer travel bargain? Let these sites do the heavy lifting
- Last Updated: 3:50 PM, May 14, 2012
- Posted: 7:08 PM, May 4, 2012
Between the time you book a trip and the time you take it, there's a good chance that the hotel, rental car company, or airline lowered the price. These websites (one of them just launched) watch your purchase and rebook you at a lower rate automatically, or alert you that you're entitled to an airline price drop voucher.
Surprisingly, once you book a hotel room there's a good chance that the same room and dates will go down between reservation and arrival, as I discovered quite by accident last year when booking a hotel stay in London. Needing to book an additional night's stay, I rechecked my reservation a week before my arrival and discovered that the daily rate had decreased by $75, saving me $750 on a 10-night booking. Imagine losing out on a deal like that? A new site, Tingo.com, will do the price-check-and-refund work for you automatically, rebooking you at the lower rate, and checking for further drops up until the day of your arrival or until the rate becomes non-refundable (usually a day or two before arrival). There's no work on your part. Each time the rate goes down, Tingo sends you an email with a new booking number at the lower price. Key here is that another consumer doesn't have to book the same room category and dates at a lower rate for the refund to kick in (unlike Orbitz's "Price Assurance" program, which also refunds hotel price drops but requires another Orbitz customer to book the same room type, check in/out dates, number of guests, and restrictions in order to trigger a refund). I recently booked a one-night stay in Washington using Tingo and exactly a day later received an email that the price had gone down $22, with a new booking number. Although the site is new, experience has shown that rate drops occur about 33 percent of the time with average savings of $36 on a two-night stay, although savings of over $500 per stay isn’t unheard of. Tingo works with virtually every hotel group and thousands of independent properties, unless the consumer is booking a non-refundable rate. There's no limit to the amount of the refund, there are no claim forms to submit and the refund is made directly to your credit card. Another site to get to know is BackBid.com, which takes your reservation and puts it out to bid, informing you if a property in your destination comes back with a counter-offer. At that point, you can choose whether or not to book. A colleague tried this out on a recent trip to Austin, Texas, and found no takers, but it's still worth a try; there really aren't any strings attached to speak of.
For several years, Yapta.com has allowed consumers to enter their flight details on several airlines and receive an alert when the price drops. Sounds great, right? Well, the site only works with the following airlines: Alaska; American; AirTran (until it's fully merged with Southwest, which doesn't participate); Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, United, US Airways, and Virgin America. No foreign-based carriers. ((no foreign-based carriers). Also, only Alaska and JetBlue (and Southwest) will give you back the entire amount of a fare drop refund, in the form of a voucher good for future travel up to a year from the original booking, with no fee. The other airlines mostly deduct $150 from the value of any voucher issued for a domestic fare, and up to $250 on an international fare, which often wipes out any savings. Okay, so that’s all the fine print out of the way. Yapta, despite limitations, has helped saved consumers millions of dollars since its founding, although whether or not these flyers ever ended up applying their voucher savings on a future flight is anyone's guess. It's always possible that revenue-hungry airlines will increase the "refund fee" at a future date, or eliminate price drop refunds entirely. The Orbitz Price Assurance program issues cash refunds, not vouchers, if an airfare you booked goes down after you buy it, but again, another Orbitz customer needs to have booked the exact same flight numbers, flight times, and dates for the refund (up to a maximum of $250) to kick in.
Rental car rates fluctuate, too, and Autoslash.com will track your booking and rebook you automatically if the price goes down before you pick up the car. Not only that, but the site will apply any discount coupon codes you might be eligible for, further lowering the cost. There's no need to issue a refund since you usually haven't paid for the rental in the first place (although some companies now offer discounts for prepaid rentals). The site has run into a spot of bother with the industry after becoming too popular with consumers — imagine that! As a result, most of the major rental car companies have demanded to be removed from booking queries. As a result, Autoslash at present functions more like BackBid does for hotels — reserve elsewhere, then come to the site and punch in your existing reservation and see if they come back to you with a lower rate, at which point the site becomes more like Tingo, where they just rebook automatically for you and send you a new confirmation. Autoslash claims it has an 85 percent success rate in reducing the cost of its customers' rentals.
Hobica is the founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, a TripAdvisor company.