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Click your way to hotel savings

If you're interested in budget travel, you've probably heard of Priceline.com and Hotwire.com. But these are not like regular travel booking websites. "Some consumers breeze on through booking as if we're Expedia and don't realize that the model and the terms and conditions are different," says Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group.

These sites use opaque pricing, which means consumers can buy a product, such as a hotel room, without knowing the name of the hotel or its exact location. The hotel name is only revealed after you buy it.

The trade-off is savings: Sites can offer up to 60 per cent off regular prices.

Hotels can offer these rates when they have unfilled rooms. But instead of publicizing a lower rate to the general public, which means they would have to offer it all the time, they go incognito.

To find out if it's worth it, read on.

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How it works
Using Hotwire, you choose the location and the dates of your trip and the site reveals a list of hotel prices. You can refine your search further by selecting a star rating (for both sites, star ratings are based on users' feedback and other site ratings) and then location; near a certain landmark or in a certain neighbourhood, for example. You can also do a price comparison from other major travel sites such as Orbitz.

Priceline users also start by entering their destination and travel dates, but then choose between buying a room with a published price, similar to a regular travel site, or bidding for their purchase. Before making your final bid, the site reveals the median price for rooms in that area. This gives you a good benchmark to name your price.

Once you've submitted your bid, and it's been accepted, only then do you discover the name of the hotel. If your bid is not accepted, you can change a setting, such as the rating, neighbourhood or dates and try again immediately, or wait 24 hours and resubmit the same request.

Priceline also recently launched a section called 'Hotel Freebies', whereby users can search for free hotel amenities, such as complimentary breakfast, an extra night, or an option that kids stay free.

You say tomato, I say ...
The sites may seem similar, but there are a few unique features.

(continued on next page)
-- Posted February 4, 2011
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