Editor's note: The following is a firsthand account of a recent experience with Expedia.com's booking system from writer Andrew Klips.
As any good marketer would do, Expedia.com (EXPE) bombards visitors with a bevy of links on its home page that can be a bit dizzying, unless you want to just click on the prominent “Plan Your Trip on Expedia” interface at the top, which is likely what most people do. An Expedia user myself, a recent experience harkened the question, “Is this really a deal?” and compelled me to share and let dealseekers know that they should take a closer look and perform their due diligence before they hit the “buy” button.
Let me explain with a couple images. This is an actual confirmation of a reservation for three nights at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The room is called a “Queen Superior” and the cost was $379 per night. Seems like a fair deal and certainly comparable in cost to other hotels in the area. Way to go Expedia, you got me a great deal. Or did they?
Needing to add another day to the trip led to a call to Expedia only to be informed that they didn’t have the same room available. Understand that Expedia purchases blocks of rooms from hotels at a discounted rate and then sells them to consumers, so I understand that they could be out of that particular room for that day. But for me, it meant that I would have to get a different room for one night and then check out/check back in the next day into a different room. Not exactly what I wanted to do, and the cost for a different room was $499 for that extra night. I wasn’t actually told what type of room it was, but after a call to the Waldorf, we surmised that it was a “King Deluxe” and it was at the same price that the Waldorf charges guests. I also learned that the cost of the “deal” for the “Queen Superior” of $379 per night was the same price that the Waldorf charges.
A call to Expedia again – which connected me with a call center (in the Philippines, I was told) – started putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Speaking to a supervisor, I of course questioned the pricing model and requested a better deal that was beneath the cost that the Waldorf was charging. That was a moot request because I was informed that was not happening. Upset, I cancelled the Expedia reservations and made them directly through the Waldorf, getting four days in the same room at the same price as going through Expedia. There were no cancellation fees involved.
So, now I decided to investigate the matter a bit more by picking a random future date and checking prices on Expedia and double-checking with the Waldorf. Here’s an image of the Expedia search:
Sure looks like a great deal, right? In fact, getting a 4-1/2 star hotel (nonetheless the Waldorf in Midtown NYC) at a 48-percent discount? That sounds incredible.
Let’s move on by calling Expedia, which again connects me with the reservation service in the Philippines. The intention was to have a representative do the same search that I did (the image above) so that we were on the same page and could discuss what type of room was available for $429 that the Waldorf would typically charge $829.
After a few moments of the rep trying to find the same price quote that I was looking at, I was informed that was a basic room with a king bed, was hearing accessible and could have either a bathtub or a walk-in tub. When asked what “hearing accessible” means, I was put back on hold and never could get a good explanation. A quick call to the Waldorf provided the answer, which was that there are several features, such as flashing lights, TTY for telephone calls, etc. to provide accommodative services for guest that are hearing impaired.
Apropos, the reality is that pursuant to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s mandatory that hotels offer rooms that meet specific needs for people with disabilities. I’m not sure it should be offered-up like it’s an amenity.
Back to the Expedia rep. When inquiring about upgrading to a “King Luxury” room, the rep couldn’t even tell me what the difference was other than “it’s fancier” or “sometimes the room is a little bit bigger and more expensive, of course.” After looking for a more descriptive response, I learned that it is $499 per night and, yes, some of the rooms are larger on a square footage basis. It apparently also confirmed the extra night that was originally offered was indeed a King Luxury room.
A check with the Waldorf informed me that they don’t charge $829 per night for the basic king room. My cost would be…you guessed it…$429. Now, in fairness, rates get shifted around all the time based upon day, season, holidays, etc., so perhaps there are times when it is $829.
Now, the point here is not to degrade the representative. I’m sure it can be a tough job for minimal pay that puts workers in a position to deal with people like me sometimes. It’s also not to say that there is something out of the ordinary about using a call center outside of the United States. That goes on every day as well (although it can be a hassle to deal with). Nor is this an exercise in bashing Expedia, although in this case, I certainly felt a bit duped with the “deal” being at the exact same price as the Waldorf charges.
Incidentally, checking reservations at The Palms Hotel & Spa in Miami Beach (using the same dates as above) at Expedia and then with the hotel itself again shows that the same price can be paid going directly to through the hotel.
Contacting Expedia for a comment resulted in the following email response from the HL Group (the company that apparently handles PR for Expedia):
“Expedia’s goal is to provide the best prices and availability possible to their consumers. The company does provide the Best Price Guarantee to travelers that applies to hotels, flights, vacation packages, car rentals and activities.”
Fair enough and pretty much what I expected in a response.
The bottom line is that, like me, most people are happy when they feel like they got a good deal. But sometimes that glee can be replaced by a salty taste in your mouth by doing a bit of due diligence. The truth is that it is all a matter of perception. Expedia held up their end by offering the lowest price; there’s no denying that, but the “crossed out” price next to the “deal” price that they are providing is misleading at best and alters perception. In the cases above, it wouldn’t have cost me any more or any less to use Expedia, so I actually shouldn’t get upset about it other than believing in my head that I was getting a discount.
There are also travel rewards points and convenience of bundled deals at Expedia if that’s a requirement. Of course the question is: Are there times when I could actually pay less by going directly to the source? That requires further examination. None of this means that I won’t ever look at Expedia again or that they don’t provide a good service, but when I do, it will certainly be followed-up with additional research to make sure I’m getting the most bang for my buck.