We’re Putting Hotels.com Under The Microscope.
You’ve no doubt seen the endless commercials for Hotels.com here in North America. But what North American audiences may not know is that Hotels.com has the been the #1 online travel booking website in Europe for well over a decade. The website (which is owned by Expedia.com), is aiming to take a large chunk of the market-share in the U.S. and Canada.
We’ve decided to put Hotels.com under the microscope. Over the past year we’ve booked several vacations through the major online booking websites in order to assess the ups and downs of each site.
The initial feel of Hotels.com’s homepage is unassuming and simple. The color scheme of Hotels.com is red, with a little purple thrown in here and there. The home-page takes you to their hotel search-engine. Which makes sense, since hotels are the companies main focus (although you can book flights, packages and car rentals on the site as well).
Compared with Expedia’s home-page layout, Hotels.com is simpler, and more laid back. Captain Obvious (pictured left) is always saying something silly on the home-page. The website’s tagline “The Obvious Choice”, is also designed to make you laugh. It’s obvious that Hotels.com is going after a younger audience when compared with Expedia.
Expedia may have been successful at luring people to abandon their travel agents for convenience back in the late-90’s and early-2000’s, but it’s branding is incredibly boring. It’s for business people in their 30’s and 40’s to travel efficiently. Hotels.com is for people who want a less-serious experience. We’re booking a vacation? Why does it have to be so business-like?
The Hotels.com Browsing Experience:
The central question with any online booking site is: can you find the right hotel/package for you? Sometimes people know exactly what they want before they even visit a travel site. Others, on the other hand, will want to browse the pictures, view prices, assess the amenities, etc. You may be looking for a last-minute deal, and you want to find the list of deals for your destination quickly. An ideal online booking site is one where you can narrow down the right fit with very little hassle.
Hotels.com offers more than 20,000 last-minute deals in its trove of hotel reservations from around the world. In addition to these savings on individual stays, you can also find group bookings and travel packages.
Searches performed on the site generally return a wide range of hotel options at various price points. You can sort your long list of results by a number of filters including average nightly rate, star rating, guest rating, amenities, and even neighborhood. That last filter would have come in handy five years on a trip to Orlando, but I digress….
The search results roll up like a series of flashcards. Each hotel post includes a photo, the hotel’s address, star rating, and guest review score.
Click anywhere on the post to reveal more photos, amenities, and scores based on location, vibe, and comfort.
Scroll all the way to the end of each specific listing and find helpful sections that describe what is offered throughout the hotel as well as what is offered within your room.
A “fine print” space at the bottom of the screen outlines the special extras specific to that location (babysitting, car services, laundry, etc.). All of this is really helpful when making a final decision on where to stay.
Pop-Ups: Friend or Foe?
When you first enter Hotels.com, a pop-up window jumps from the screen the day’s latest deal and/or promotional code, and a large advertisement bank sits below the search query box and includes the day’s “best offers” as well as deals broken down by destination. Although many would like to save where they can, the barrage of pop-up notes and flashy sales does not end there.
While you browse, strange yellow boxes sometimes appear in the bottom right of your window that tell you how many people are also searching the site with your criteria and how many booked a reservation within the last 24 hours. It really comes across like a shameless play on your tendency to do things because others are doing them as well as a shallow attempt to add a sense of urgency to your shopping experience. We know that nearly every booking site has these ‘pressure tactics’ to motivate you into booking right now. It doesn’t mean we have to like (or accept) it.
If you really want to see as many “special” deals as possible, check out the “Hotel Deals” tab. The site takes all of its ultra discounts, stacks them up by location, and allows users to browse through them like a sales rack in the back of a clothing store.
Customer Reviews and The Question of Trust.
Know little about the chateaus in France? Feel uncomfortable about the realities of that all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic? Leverage the feedback of others to understand more about what you are getting.
Like most Internet booking sites, Hotels.com allows users to leave customer feedback. Although, not many of the site’s listings don’t appear to have as many reviews as comparable sites like Expedia and Travelocity. You tend to see only one or two comments or ratings per location for the smaller hotels.
However, each hotel listing also shows the location’s Trip Advisor review score along with selected comments from people who shared their experiences. Still, a brief scroll through even the low-starred accommodations suggests that most of these reviews are positive in nature. Take these ratings with a grain of salt. Even the amateur traveler knows some lodgings are just bad apples. Plus, these reviews do not represent Hotels.com customers solely, but rather the general public.
The static advertisements do not really bother you as much, although they appear everywhere. And of course, the site also creeps into your social media world, too. Be prepared for that hotel you check out to appear in Facebook and advertisements for weeks.
See the same hotel listing on another site for a cheaper price? Hotels.com offers the opportunity to book the same dates at the same hotel for the lower rate through its Best Price Guarantee. Just be prepared to wait on the refunded difference. That can take some time.
The site also includes a no-cancellation fee policy. Now, if you book the hotel and decide to pay when you stay, you can simply cancel the reservation with the hotel. When you enter credit card information, it’s only to secure the booking (every hotel has their own time-requirements for cancellations). If you decide to pay on Hotels.com’s site in advance, then their no-cancellation fee makes sense.
The good news is that Hotels.com rewards you for repeatedly booking on their site. This feature kind of functions like a punch card at your local restaurant or deli. After purchasing ten hotel nights through the web site, you earn the option of free night.
A lot of the hotel nights seem to come with additional fees when you arrive at the hotel. Nothing says, “You’ve made it to your cheap vacation!” like a $400 service fee at the front desk, right? Wrong.
The good news is that same “fine print” section that lauds all the extras each hotel offers also outlines just what you are in for when you arrive at the front desk. Although, some times you must click to expand this information. The link will say something like “See small print” and will likely be inconspicuously placed somewhere within the hotel description. Obviously, the burden of this discovery falls on the user. Before you book, pour over every inch of that listing, and consider contacting the hotel directly to understand more about how the discount applies.
Fortunately, Hotels.com lists a direct phone number for each hotel right on the location’s listing. It usually appears right next to the hotel’s name and above the types of rooms available.