Winning “best price” game, even when they cheat

When every online booking site is offering a "best price guarantee" of one sort or another is it really worth checking them all? According to a lawsuit filed this week in California, probably not. The suit claims that there really are no "best" prices available because the hotels and larger booking agencies colluded to set minimum sale prices on rooms, preventing smaller booking sites with lower overhead from undercutting the prices and taking away customers. The suit is seeking class action status and it’ll be a while (if ever) before anything comes of it.

According to the lawyer representing the claimants:

The large online travel sites, working with hotel chains, have created the illusion that savvy consumers can spend time researching hotel rates online to find good deals. The reality is that these illegal price-parity agreements mean consumers see nothing but cosmetic differences and the same prices on every site.

So, if it really is just cosmetic differences, is it possible to win the game? Actually, it just might be.

Even if the online travel agents (OTAs) really are colluding on prices, there are ways to pay different rates in the end. Welcome to the world of front-end and back-end rebates and OTAs. Take a room priced at $100 per night. Booking through Orbitz you’ll pay that $100. Booking through can get you a 5% rebate straight up on the booking. That’s the front-end rebate. And if you participate in the Welcome Rewards program there’s another 10% back after every 10 nights. isn’t the only program which has a similar rebate approach. Some sites only have rebates on the front or the back end and some have both. No matter what, learning about these programs and how they work is arguably a more valuable way to spend your time than checking dozens of different sites every time you book a hotel room.

Most of the brands offer some form of a best rate guarantee, too. That’s great if you want to use their loyalty program as the back-end rebate solution rather than one of the generic solutions. And many of them have a front-end rebate available, too. Click through a referral site and you still get the rate, you get the points for booking directly AND you get a bit of cash back for the booking, too.

I’ve got a few of the hotel brands available on the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools referral site and a few OTAs, too. I’m working on adding more. Other sites to use which provide similar functionality include TopCashBack and eBates (n.b. – these are referral links, too).

Even if you like the hotel points, there’s no reason to pay full price and there’s certainly no reason to let the cheaters win.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.