Booking a bargain: Travel websites don't always pay off

ABC7 I-Team Investigation
CHICAGO (WLS) -- You may think that the best hotel prices would be on special travel websites, but the ABC7 I-Team found that nine out of 10 Chicago hotels were cheaper directly though the hotel itself.

Most people immediately compare prices for hotels on popular sites like Expedia. But the I-Team found new ways to book a bargain and pile on the perks.

No matter where you are traveling this summer, you want the best hotel. Brandon Todd booked through Expedia's "Best Price Guarantee."

"I just feel like Expedia was the best way to go every time I did book," Todd said.

But maybe not - the owner of the Indian Trail Motel in the Wisconsin Dells said she would have saved about $65 for a room over two nights and gotten $95 worth of free water park tickets if she would have booked directly through the hotel instead of Expedia.

"I'm not going to lie to you, that's a little surprising," Todd said.

So, the I-Team compared hotels on Expedia to the hotels' websites for the same travel dates.

On Expedia, a two bedroom junior suite at the Chula Vista in the Wisconsin Dells for two nights was about $478 - but if you go directly to the hotel's website it was $365 dollars, more than $100 less.

The Great Wolf Lodge was the same price- but you could get free water park passes directly through the hotel.

"I'm very surprised. I would think that if you go online like that and book just hotels, you would get the best price but evidently not," said Justin Rybolt.

In the city, Expedia charged $43 more per night at the Marriot on Michigan Avenue - the hotel's website gave a better deal.

The Peninsula - $11 more on Expedia.

The Wit and several other Chicago hotels - including Virgin Hotel, The Drake, The Allegro - were anywhere from $2-5 more for a night on Expedia.

And directly through The Allegro's website, you can get a breakfast upgrade for $1 more a night. There are also more incentives offered for booking directly on Trump's website but the room was $80 less on Expedia.

Expedia also owns Hotels.com, Hotwire, Travelocity, Trivago and is in the process of buying Chicago-based Orbitz.

Expedia told the I-Team : "In the rare case that travelers find a better price after booking on our site, they are covered by our Best Price Guarantee in which we will refund the difference in the hotel rate and offer a $50 Expedia gift card."

However, you must be a "logged-in member" of Expedia at the time of booking.

AAA spokesperson Beth Mosher says despite commission rates, travel agents can help you save.

"A lot of times travel agents work with wholesalers and work with vendors and can have access to cheaper deals that maybe the average consumer can't find," Mosher said.

You can also negotiate on your own and ask for perks.

"Free breakfast for two every day, you're going to get $100 dining credit you can spend on property , you are going to get an upgraded room guaranteed," said Kendra Thornton, Royal Travel and Tours.

Thornton says that deal is at the Langham Place hotel in New York City, but the perks were only available directly through the hotel or through Royal Travel and Tours.

"So you are saving yourself hundreds of dollars," Thornton said.

In our comparisons, we also checked Priceline - not owned by Expedia - and in every case, it had the same price or less than the hotel's website.

The I-Team also found that sometimes you can actually save 25-40 percent more on sites like Expedia if you are on a mobile device.

Expedia says it is now an industry trend to offer those deep mobile discounts.
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