Websites like HotelTonight have long been trying to solve the problem of when to book hotel rooms to get the best prices. Online travel agencies like Booking.com and Hopper have added price protection programs for the same reason. And travelers complain about how hard it is to get a good deal on a hotel. Now a new site, HotelSlash, is joining the fray, promising discounted hotel rates to members and a tracking service that manages bookings.
“We are hackers at heart,” said Jonathan Weinberg, CEO and co-founder of HotelSlash. He also runs AutoSlash, a car rental platform that tracks bookings and prompts travelers to lower rates to cancel — most car rental agencies allow free cancellations — and return at a reduced rate.
HotelSlash, he added, targets “high-end luxury travelers.”
For the next three months, the site is offering a 90-day free trial, although Mr. Weinberg said they will always offer a limited free trial period for new users; after that, an annual membership costs $29.95.
How does it work and what are the benefits of hiring a hawk group? Answers follow.
Users can book hotel rooms through HotelSlash by selecting their destination (either a specific hotel or a city), travel dates and number of travelers. Unlike other booking sites, HotelSlash sends an email with a link to the results, adding a step to the process. The email appears within minutes, and the results are solid. Even when I searched for a specific place – Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas – I found its room rates and the rates of nearby hotels, including different types of rooms and rates, such as non-refundable and non-refundable prepayments.
Father. Weinberg said the lowest prices HotelSlash receives are “user group-driven prices,” the company’s term for negotiating with associations and businesses such as AAA and Costco.
It is not for the faithful. The site does not allow users to enter their own points, and although travelers can request points from hotels directly, there is no guarantee that the property will comply.
“Fewer travelers are in hotel loyalty programs than they are with airline loyalty memberships, so travelers are more willing to make other reservations,” said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry researcher and president of market research and consulting for Atmosphere Research Group.
To its credit, HotelSlash clearly states prices and what they include, such as taxes. It’s also clear about the terms, which require users to click a box to say they “understand and agree that the reservation is non-refundable on or after” the date given.
The most interesting thing is the service of HotelSlash in checking the prices of each price, where users will be notified and can cancel their previous reservation – assuming that the cancellation is not penalized – and make a new one at a lower price. (To protect themselves from hawks, some hotels are moving their cancellation windows from 24 hours to 48 or 72 hours.)
“We recommend booking as soon as possible,” Mr. Weinberg said, adding that users have saved about 25 percent over the past two years since the site was created. “The longer we have to look for better businesses, the better off we are.”
Hotel prices may be volatile, but going down is often a matter of luck or effort. Otherwise, Mr. Harteveldt recently looked at a five-day reservation in Atlanta and found that the daily rate had dropped by $50, so she returned it. If HotelSlash “costs $30 a year and finds the cheapest price for the same hotel with one room or better and is more than $30 a membership, it pays for itself with one stay,” he said.
As with most travel bookings, travelers who do the hard work — meaning they do a lot of comparative research and price analysis — tend to save big.
Most hotel booking sites want to reduce the workload by offering price guarantees. Booking.com will match the lowest price found elsewhere, but the onus is on the traveler to find it and get a refund. For cash, Hopper allows you to set a price at a hotel and when it goes up you’ll pay the difference. Fees vary and are applied to each booking, but are deducted if the user has not booked the room. In terms of price management, HotelSlash handles future, often limited, transactions.
But buyers should always do a comparison search when making their first reservation.
Looking at HotelSlash, I found prices that were better than on the hotel website. Sometimes I find similar prices at other online businesses. Sometimes, I find slightly better prices at the hotels directly, but comparing them requires some clarification of the terms. For example, for a three-day stay in June at the Paris Las Vegas Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, I earned a total of $831, including taxes, but not including about $138 in resort fees of $969 from HotelSlash; including taxes and fees, the Expedia price was $981. The original bill of $702 from the hotel ballooned to $952 with taxes and fees when I clicked through to the payment page.
As with online travel agencies and websites, the best rates advertised are often non-refundable and risky. “Unless your investment is reasonable, and you’re 110 percent sure of your decision, don’t invest in a non-returnable investment,” said Mr. Harteveldt advised. “Plans change and it’s always good to have a flexible schedule.”
Elaine Glusac writes a column for Frugal Traveler. Follow him on Instagram @eglusac.
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