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Which Travel Websites Deliver?

Supposedly, one advantage of reserving a hotel room online is getting a great price. But when you search among the hotel-booking sites, you'll find they're not created equal. Big online travel agencies' main search engines generally give you the same promotional rates that hotels themselves offer. Auction services like Priceline can line up cheap rooms, but only if you commit before learning which hotel you'll be staying in. And many sites geared toward discounts have either a limited selection or misleading listings--or they force you to go through the full reservations process before they tell you whether the specials are actually available.

Given a host of new discount providers, and a recent spate of consolidation, we logged on to more than a dozen discount sites to find out which are quick and easy to use, and consistently have good rates on desirable hotels in a range of destinations. Three passed the test: Hotel Reservations Network or HRN (www.hoteldiscount.com), Travelscape (www.travelscape.com), and Quikbook (www.quikbook.com).

These sites are to hotels what consolidators are to airlines--they buy at low rates rooms that might otherwise go unsold. Because their allotments are determined in advance, they may have space when a hotel's own reservations system shows nothing available.

For example, when we searched for a room in Chicago for Friday, May 12, and Saturday, May 13, we found the Hotel Inter-Continental listed on all three sites (the Inter-Continental itself had no rooms left). HRN quoted rates of $179 for the 12th and $309 for the 13th. Travelscape cited $174 for the 12th, but couldn't get us in on the 13th. Quikbook had the best deal: $148 per night, available both nights.

Although in this case all three sites had space at the Inter-Continental, each maintains a distinct inventory. HRN--which is used by 2,000 "affiliate sites" and is now the discount partner of Travelocity and Preview Travel--lists hotels in 36 North American locations and 10 European cities. Travelscape, recently acquired by Expedia, covers 240 cities (mostly in the United States, but also in the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, London, Paris, and Vienna). Quikbook is the smallest, with 18 U.S. cities and several more to come later this year.

HRN and Quikbook also provide maps and property ratings. The latter even lets you search by price, but gives initial quotes only for the first night; you have to proceed well into the booking process to get the price for subsequent dates. Travelscape gives not only reduced room rates, but also discounted air-hotel packages.

comparison shopping
To gauge the extent of the discounts on HRN, Travelscape, and Quikbook, in early April we checked the sites' offerings in six cities for a specific set of weekday dates (June 13 and 14). Then we compared the rates to those quoted by the hotels themselves. Prices below are for both nights combined.

City/Hotel Discount Site Price Hotel Price
New York/The Palace $530 (Quikbook) $1,030
Washington, D.C./Hilton Embassy Row $340 (HRN) $470
Los Angeles/The Mondrian $552 (HRN) $620
Las Vegas/Four Seasons $358 (Travelscape) $600
Miami/Sheraton Bal Harbour $298 (Travelscape) $498
San Francisco/Mark Hopkins Inter-Continental $408 (Quikbook) $760

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