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Expedia: Bad for the Traveler, Bad for the Hotel (playazone.wordpress.com)
467 points by ValentineC on Dec 25, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 175 comments

Not using hotels.com is harder than you think. There are front entities pretending to be the hotel and are actually booking thru hotels.com.


We booked a hotel in Key West FL. Fair deal. Show up, no reservation. Turns out they gave us the wrong hotel info. It was super late and we couldn't resolve the mess with hotels' customer service over the phone so we just crashed where we arrived. Took months to get the charges for the other booking reversed.

People at hotel where we arrived said it happens all the time.

For our next trip, resolved to not use hotels.com ever again, I found hotel via the web. Called the number. Turns out both the website and phone number were SEO optimized front companies that book thru hotels.com. Which we did not discover until we arrived and there was a problem with the booking. We paid $40 extra per night for the privilege of being lied to.


Personally, as a consumer, I'm very grumpy that I'm constantly being lied to. I work hard for my money. I try to be diligent about how I spend it. And I'm sick of being robbed by legal means. It seems to be getting worse (ISPs, banks, phone companies, mortgages, etc). I'm now more reluctant to spend money. Because now my transaction costs are getting too high. Too much friction.

If my wary consumer experience is widespread, it has to be dampening the economy.

Free market! Woot!

Same story here. Called a number I thought was the hotel. They replied with "Hotel name, what can I do for you". I made the reservation, based on wrong information in just about every department, the wrongest being that the hotel has room (but also wrong about cancellation policy and other stuff, as I later found out).

Got to hotel, only to be told that hotels.com screwed up and confirmed 30 reservations when in fact the hotel in fact had 2 available rooms for the day.

Went to a friend's house, as no other hotel around was available. Called hotels.com; waited an hour on the phone, no answer. Disputed charge with credit card company (took less than 10 minutes), and emailed them that I've disputed, and if they want it to NOT go through they are welcome to contact me.

They emailed me within 24 hours with some credit, saying it will take them 72 hours to resolve. After 120 hours, I email them; they say it's going to "take them more time". After 4 more days, I email them - still no response.

The next morning, credit card company gave me my money back. Haven't heard from hotels.com since, but I have a paper trail saying they will check and contact me, and then silence. And so does the credit card company.

Never booking through hotels.com again, even if it means I have to work much more to figure out a direct phone number.

Sorry to be pedantic, but > SEO Optimized > Search Engine Optimization Optimized

Automated teller machine machine?

    > For the most availability, best prices and service,
    > always book directly with a hotel. 
(Full disclosure: I work for Booking.com an online hotel booking website and Expedia's competitor)

I think it's a gross misrepresentation to say that the customer is always best off booking directly with the hotel. You get something you wouldn't get when booking directly through the hotel.

When you use an OTA you have collective bargaining power; If the hotel screws you around in any way it's now the OTA's problem. They'll call up the hotel on your behalf (in their native language, which you may or may not speak) and either sort it out with them or make sure you have somewhere else to stay because you're now their customer.

Of course the service you get differs a lot by OTA. But from the customer's perspective there's usually a net gain by booking through one.

    > If the hotel screws you around in any way it's now the OTA's problem
We're just in the process of trying to sort out a dispute with a hotel we booked via booking.com. It doesn't feel like it's booking.com's problem, but rather ours. We were essentially forced to pay for full 7 nights even though we stayed only one, after it wasn't possible to stay any longer with a non-functioning toilet. Not to mention false information published on booking.com.

    > or make sure you have somewhere else to stay because you're now their customer
That's interesting. In our case booking.com has never offered any such help. We went by ourselves to try to find alternative accommodation. Not that it makes a huge difference, but it is our honeymoon so I'm sure yo'd agree there are many better ways to spend it...

So far you guys are trying to help, but I can't say that the problem is resolved or that it feels like you're treating it as your problem. To quote a part of the latest email from booking.com on this:

> ... the hotels themselves are responsible for all the information provided to you. Booking.com acts as an intermediary between the guest and the hotel and is therefore responsible for delivering the reservation correctly to the hotel. Once the hotel has confirmed the reservation it then becomes their responsibility to accommodate the guests.

I work in IT which is pretty removed from customer service, but if you send me some details at the E-Mail listed in my profile I could see if I could find someone to poke about this if needed. I'll be back at work on Thursday.

Thanks avar. Just sent you an email. It's rather encouraging to see someone from IT stepping in to defend their company. It shows a lot about the company. Still hoping for a positive resolution on this one.

This will only be addressed because this case has publicity. Have you considered that you may have been drinking some kool-aid?

On Christmas the gentleman offered to pass along customer information for a warm intro to a customer service representative. Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn't. It's not his job to troll forums and solve customer problems but yet he still offered.

Have you considered you may be a rude and cynical person?

I know I'm rude and cynical. My point was that he believes his company truly cares in a very big way about these things, when it doesn't. If this particular item gets resolved, it would only be because of the publicity.

If he truly believes his company genuinely values customer service, it would be more interesting for him to stick around and explain why the problem doesn't get solved as the complainer tries to work his way through it with no outside assistance.

Getting someone to solve a problem from the inside is useful only to the single person with a problem.

I understand the sentiment, albeit cynical. I would also feel guilty if it means that I got what I want, but most customers will get screwed over, only because this got publicized.

That being said, OTAs have to operate in an online world, when complaints such as mine can easily get publicity and it ends up hurting the OTAs business. So the OTA can play whack-a-mole and deal only with the cases that get public attention, or it can realise it's much better off always keeping its customers happy (on both side of the fence).

I am hoping that these cases and others help sway OTAs to do The Right Thing (TM), rather than constantly do fire-fighting.

> or it can realise it's much better off always keeping its customers happy (on both side of the fence).

100% agree. I would suggest that the cost of doing this compared to the small downside of not "making things right" makes it a pretty simple decision. The vast majority of their customers will never, ever read an in-depth article of a problem, or a forum discussion. There is very little economic incentive for them to change anything.

It sounds like you dealt with a rotten hotel, sorry for your experience. Unfortunately, the OTA is only as accurate as the hotelier filling in information about their property.

Hmm... I'd like to see the ratings for that hotel on booking.com, because I wonder whether such experiences are actually avoidable using the mechanisms (user to user ratings) provided.

In our case the reviews were really great. One of the reasons we chose this place. We can't prove anything, but to put it mildly, I have a feeling not all reviews were genuine.

I'm not using any of these services (expedia or booking.com), but have heard similar things several times ... "Genuine" reviews are a difficult problem to solve though, even if you have the identity of actual "customers" at your disposal. The price of one stellar review is then basically the cut of the referring website, when e.g. a hotel employee "books" a stay at that hotel just to be able to give it a positive review.

Actually, the one thing that separates the OTAs is that their reviews are "verified" and are submitted by guests who have completed reservations at that property so they are supposed to be a lot better. If you compare this to Tripadvisor, anyone can submit a review so they have to deal with more fraud.

There are also several OTA's that decide to carry fewer hotels, and actually send an employee there undercover to check it out first before doing business with them. At the one I work at, we also look for hotels that cause lots of people to need to call customer service and remove them. We don't have as many hotels in as many places, but our target customers are the travelers who refuse to stay in subpar hotels.

So in other words, use hotel.com at your peril, because the sole reason to use the website is probably broken. And hotel.com won't do anything about it.

I won't be using them!

FD: I'm at an OTA/Central Reservation System specializing in boutique hotels.

When you book with a respectable OTA, it is basically like purchasing comfort insurance, but you pay nothing for it. You are being backed by their brand and your problems become theirs to solve. OTA's sometimes offer perks to people who book through them like free or discounted transportation and comped room upgrades.

Also, it is often in the contract between the hotel and the OTA that the hotel will always advertise the lowest rate available through that OTA. If the hotel works with several OTA's, then the hotel must offer the same room rate to each one that they have this arrangement with. They sometimes offer the same rate on their own, too. If you contact the hotel and ask for a room directly, and they offer you a lower rate, there is a chance that they are in breach of contract.

So the customer should definitely be getting value from their decision to book through an OTA.

For hotels, they usually have contracts with several OTA's. To let them know which rooms to sell, a hotelier will periodically update the availability and rates using a CRS that distributes the information to several OTA's, simplifying the process. But there are some really nasty CRS's out there, built in the 70s on mainframes that have not changed much since. They can be complicated to work with, and discourage smaller properties from putting in the effort. It sounds like the writer likely had a problem updating availability information through the CRS that expedia uses, leading to them not showing any availability.

This is weasel words:

> Also, it is often in the contract between the hotel and the OTA that the hotel will always advertise the lowest rate available through that OTA. ... If you contact the hotel and ask for a room directly, and they offer you a lower rate, there is a chance that they are in breach of contract.

You're scare mongering. A hotel can charge a customer anything they like. They can give them the room for free. Your contract with them MIGHT preclude them ADVERTISING a lower rate, but it doesn't preclude them offering a lower rate when asked for a room directly. Even if it did, the only remedy I can imagine would be ending the contract.

When I want a room today or tomorrow, I find the best rates I can via OTAs, then phone the hotel and ask for the manager. I then ask for and GET a cheaper rate because they don't have to take the 25% OTA hit.

Until the web is flooded with "would you believe the extra value this OTA provided?" I'll continue to avoid them.

You seriously expect us to believe this? Your comment, at least in my mind, just adds to my opinion of how truly evil companies such as yours are. Have you no shame whatsoever?

I bring people together with great hotels. I work at a place very different from Expedia, but yes, I am absolutely shameless about what I do. May your December 26th be better than your Christmas :)

Can you explain what krenoten said that was "evil"? Your comment seems like an overreaction, to say the least.

What did krenoten say that sounded evil?

This does not correspond with my experience with online travel agencies. Whenever I've had any sort of irregularity to deal with, there were now two entities to communicate with instead of one. And sometimes the travel agency doesn't pass on the lenient policies of the principal.

I had a dispute with an hotel booked through booking.com a month ago and their customer service was really impressive. As said above they called the hotel, sorted it out, called me back, sent me a few emails for order cancellation, and personal apologies. What's more the woman who handled the case was really nice and reassuring.

I was left wondering. The day I open my own internet service I'll try to provide such good support.

So rather than dealing with one entity, the hotel which you have to deal with, and is represented by someone standing in front of you, you have to deal with two, one who is not,

If you're a hotel dealing with one unhappy customer you only stand to lose the future business of that customer, and any negative PR (usually non-existent) that they can personally inflict upon you.

When you're dealing with a customer you get through a lucrative distribution channel you're liable to lose your standing on the distribution channel as a whole.

Negative reviews by that customer and customer service load on the distribution channel caused by you will impact your future business as a whole. This is true for all major distribution channels that I know of, such as Amazon.com, eBay and various OTA's.

> ... and any negative PR (usually non-existent) ...

Don't underestimate the impact of sites like tripadvisor where one unhappy customer is very visible.

And likewise if you a website dealing with one person, you only stand to lose that customer, as opposed to a hotel, or even a chain of hotels.

I think there's a potentially big advantage to having a 3rd party involved. It can help arbitrate when there are problems. However, the OTA must really help both parties, and resolve any disputes, instead of washing their hands off it and saying they're just a messenger confirming the booking. There's little value in an OTA that only provides booking confirmation and that's it.

As far as I'm aware airbnb has made a lot of progress in this very area, verifying photos and information posted, checking the identities of the guests, that helps protecting both the host and the guest. There's no reason why OTAs can't do the same with hotels.

There's no reason why they can't, but there are many reasons why they won't.

Hotelier & PMS developer & Booking.com user here. Booking.com does call us immediately if there's any dispute between the hotel & the travellers. Irrelevant question: Expedia has HotelExtranet and Travelocity has a nice API. Why is it so bloody hard to integrate with booking.com? (Directly without using CRS)

Is it because Booking.com has an agency model vs. a merchant model like the others? Also, seems to be working pretty well for Booking.com (largest OTA in the world).

The article is specifically talking about small, mom and pop places -- in these cases, calling the hotel is almost always the best thing to do.

For your average Marriott, Hilton, etc, I agree with you, calling the hotel directly isn't going to do much for you unless there is some special circumstance.

i can actually confirm this one--about 18 months ago, a hotel in SF, refused to honor my reservation ("just couldn't seem to find it in their system, though i had plenty to show that i had one)--turned away from at about 2300 on evening after a long flight. In a still more-astonishing display of incompetence, about two days later they charged my credit card as a "no show." The Site i booked with sorted it out for me (full refund within about two days) and all it took was an email to them asking for help. Booking.com, in fact--kudos.

Are you guys still using Perl? I'd love to work with you guys, but I'm not a Perl guy.

Yes. All our main backend code is in Perl. There's frontend tasks in JavaScript and some C and Python around, but my rough guess would be that less than 1% of our code falls under that umbrella.

We're hiring, and not just "Perl guy[s]". We hire good programmers, some of them know Perl already, but others pick it up while on the job.

Contact me at avarab@gmail.com if you (or anyone else here) would be interested in exploring opportunities at Booking.com. Our current openings are listed at booking.com/jobs.

> For the most availability, best prices and service, always book directly with a hotel.

It has never been the case with me. Expedia, or any other travel site, always had better deals. In fact, I once called the hotel in question to ask why there is a big price discrepancy between their site listing and makemytrip. I was concerned makemytrip is selling me rooms that doesn't exist and the hotel won't honor my reservation. The hotel staff told me the hotel sells rooms to makemytrip well in advance, and whatever the price that is listed on makemytrip will be honored(doesn't really matter; you pay directly to makemytrip).

Also, I am a bit paranoid. I would hate it if some hotel overbooked and told me "lol sorry" when I arrive. I know travel sites aren't really on my side, but at least I will have someone to appeal to.

I didn't have any bad experience with Expedia but then, I had very limited interactions with them(I didn't even modify or cancel my bookings).

I would advice against agoda and booking.com as they forward your credit card info to the hotel as security. In what world does forwarding a customer's credit card info to a random hotel makes sense? Imagine the surprise when you are at the hotel counter and the staff shows you a printout of your credit card info(nothing obscured; everything in plain text).

> If you would like to know more about our hotel just visit our website at www.lunabluehotel.com.

I tried, and the link is down. Most of the hotels don't even have websites, let alone online reservations. There is a reason customers go to expedia in the first place.

EDIT: Random travel tip. If you are in a foreign or an unknown location, a hotel which provides airport transfer generally ends up cheaper than a hotel which doesn't + cab fares. You would be surprised how wrong your assumptions about transport might be. "You have a flight to catch at 8, it's 5, you are in the lobby and there isn't a cab in sight and looks unlikely there will be one for another 2 hours" isn't a pleasant situation to be in.

(Disclaimer again: I work for Booking.com in IT)

    > I would advice against agoda and booking.com as they
    > forward your credit card info to the hotel as security.
They don't forward your credit card as security. They forward it for the hotel to charge you for the entirety of your booking.

Companies like Expedia follow the merchant model, they buy up hotels rooms in bulk in advance and then re-sell them directly to customers. When you buy from a merchant your credit card isn't shared with the hotel as there's no need to do so.

Other companies like Booking.com and Agoda follow the agency model. They find customers for the hotels, forward their payment details along to the hotel, the hotel charges the customer, and then pays the agency a percentage of the booking as an agency fee[1].

Both models have their pros and cons. The merchant model works brilliantly in the US where large chains are the norm. It works less well in Europe where the vast number of hotels are small properties.

    > Imagine the surprise when you are at the hotel counter
    > and the staff shows you a printout of your credit card
    > info(nothing obscured; everything in plain text).
It's fair enough that this makes you uncomfortable. But the hotel with that printout has a contract with the credit card company like any other merchant and is responsible for treating it responsibly.

I think you'd also be very surprised at the number of other merchants you might deal with where this is the case. Having a printout with a credit card number is not at all unusual in a lot of businesses.

> They don't forward your credit card as security. They forward it for the hotel to charge you for the entirety of your booking.

Security, as in, the hotel will charge me with the passed-on information if I don't turn up. I still have to swipe my card if I turn up.

I don't like increasing the number of variables. When I pay directly to booking.com, I am dealing with a PCI compliant company. When you pass my credit card info to a hotel clerk, I am dealing with a hotel clerk who has my info who is free to pass it to his friends, or dump it in a trash can(knowingly or unknowingly) from where someone else picks it up.

Not unusual doesn't make it acceptable. It is still a PCI DSS violation.

Sending them over is not. It's allowed under the PCI standards to send credit card numbers unencrypted via the fax system. I believe it's then up to the receiver of the fax to physically secure it. But I'm not overly familiar with these standards.

> I believe it's then up to the receiver of the fax to physically secure it.

Yes, I get it. Once you fax it to the hotel, it's not your problem. But how does it make things any better for me? You are still PCI compliant, but the customer now has his info passed to a random hotel clerk.

I think you might be making the implicit assumption that this is somehow shady or out of the ordinary when it comes to credit cards.

When you hand your credit card over to any clerk anywhere you're giving them access to your name and credit card number. If you hadn't booked through an OTA your credit card number would have likely been manually written down anyway on a piece of paper by the clerk at the desk.

All of this is PCI compliant, in order to process payments at all the hotel has a contract with the credit card company (or a local bank by proxy) which stipulates that they have to adhere to the relevant PCI standards.

Could this be more secure? Of course it could. But credit cards were never meant to be secure. They explicitly take convenience and the ability to do offline payments (writing down your credit card number for later) over security. If anything goes wrong they'll use some of the money they get from transaction fees to refund fraudulent payments.

This is because of momentum. The online travel websites have established themselves among a portion of the population. As a result, in competitive regions, hotels have to play the third party travel website game, which means offering their rooms cheaper there, otherwise their competitors will get that business if they choose not to offer it. However, as I noted below, if you call directly, and offer to pay the hotel directly 5% less than what Expedia or whoever is offering you a room, they should take the money, unless they are incompetent. I would ask to speak to a manager if the lowly desk clerk doesn't accomodate.

The larger hotel franchises are combating this with www.roomkey.com, which is a direct link to the hotel.

As for credit cards, all major hotels (Choice/IHG/Wyndham/Hilton/Accor) have systems that comply with credit card standards. Credit card numbers should not, and I have never seen them, printed plainly on any piece of paper. They are not even visible to most employees, only managers, if proper procedures are followed. They are forwarded to hotels as a security deposit because sometimes the third party websites are not paying, the guest is, and the hotel then pays the travel agent. In this case, the hotel needs the guest's card info to authorize the card after the cancellation period has expired, so that the hotel has a guarantee of being able to collect the money.

>I tried, and the link is down. Most of the hotels don't even have websites, let alone online reservations. There is a reason customers go to expedia in the first place.

In America, most hotels certainly do have websites, via their franchise. If they don't, I'd advise looking up their phone number (google, tripadvisor), and calling them.

Online travel didn't establish themselves, it was failure of the hotel industry to do competitive online booking. It still is a failure, i get better prices through hotels.com. Also if I book through the hotel directly, some hotels tack on $20 to $30 resort "fees", they'll match hotel.com and when you get there, you get nailed with bogus fees. There is absolutely no reason to book through a hotel directly.

> if proper procedures are followed.

I have seen the proper procedure violated. I don't think hotels need to comply with PCI, so that safety net isn't there. I am a bit paranoid and I can't just count on people being good and competent.

> In this case, the hotel needs the guest's card info to authorize the card after the cancellation period has expired, so that the hotel has a guarantee of being able to collect the money.

Won't work with me. I do all online payments with a virtual credit card. The virtual credit card is linked with my actual credit card and I can reset the limit of the card as often as I like. If I am buying a hotel room which lists itself as X per night and I am buying it for 2 nights, I reset my limit to 2*X and make the booking. If you try to slap extra charges on me, the transaction will be denied.

In a similar vein, if I don't turn up, I will simply reset my limit to 0. The hotel won't be able to charge me.

> I tried and the link is down.

lunabluehotel.com seems to have gone offline yesterday, I suspect as a result of a traffic spike following their blog post. From their twitter stream:

> Seems that our website, http://www.lunabluehotel.com is currently down. We have a call in to find out why & solve the... http://fb.me/15notFYoE

(Note the link at the end of the tweet is also broken.) They also posted on the 23rd that views of their wordpress-hosted blog post were spiking:

> We just noticed that views of our Expedia blog post have gone through the roof for the 24 hours or so, all coming... http://fb.me/zyw2aX7R

I concur!

When you book via Agoda.com you get points that can be used toward future bookings. It’s effectively a 4% rebate, so even if the hotel can match the Agoda price, it’s still a better deal to book it via Agoda, that said, in the past I would often ask the hotel, before booking, if they could match the Agoda price, and more often than not, the answer was no.

Despite my best efforts, I did not succeed in getting an explanation of this policy.

In the case of Agoda, they do not buy the rooms in advance.

Did you ask to speak with a manager or someone in sales? Most desk clerks are minimum wage employees who won't go out of their way to make a sale, but any competent manager would never forgo cutting out a middleman.

I'm not sure this is what people usually mean when they say "cutting out the middle man." Here the hotel and you are actually using the services of a middleman without then paying.

A few times I was given the phone number / business card of someone who may have been able to provide me with a better discount than what the checkin staff was authorized to offer.

I never bothered following up on that though, as it seemed more hassle than just booking via Agoda.

> I would advice against agoda and booking.com as they forward your credit card info to the hotel as security.

I always pay agoda with paypal when I travel in SE Asia, and now more than ever i'm glad for it ...

I worked in the online booking industry for a couple of years, coincidentally I also live in Playa del Carmen now.

What most likely happened was this: Expedia and other big players buy wholesale room inventory from large hotel chains. Expedia might come up and say that they want to buy 30% of the rooms of a hotel for a certain period at a steeply discounted price.

This might be something that the hotel itself can't fill, so the happily sell to Expedia et al. To Expedia, selling these rooms might be something like 80% profit, against 25% for a small hotel such as the Luna Blue.

Expedia then promotes the hell out of the hotel through their website: they make it appear on top of search results, they "pimp" they profile of the hotel, and such. They are not allowed to undercut the price, because other retailers might ask for the same price.

Then, the office managers of Expedia Cancún are most likely on some sort of incentive to sell most of these wholesale rooms (travel is dominated by such economic incentives). The hack is is pretty clear: "closing" smaller hotels causes users to book another hotel, and it will most likely be one of these pimped out hotel profiles that provide much more profit than other hotels.

I'm guessing this is a regional issue, just some dim witted office managers at Cancún that are trying to game the system in order to get a big incentive.

This sounds very plausible, and this type of thing should be closely watched by corporate and punished harshly when it does occur. The older I get, the more I think government should get involved in business, because it seems increasingly common that corporations will not police themselves - "oh, we had no idea this was happening!"

Personally, I am getting tired of hearing lie after lie from corporations. I have always been right wing or libertarian, but I am starting to adopt the political opinion that I would like to see the government step in and start punishing these companies so hard that they will very seriously regret that they didn't self-police.

I am a typical travel customer. I often go to conferences and book hotels in unfamiliar cities. I am very sympathetic to this story. And yet -- at the end --

>either use the internet to do the research or go to a reputable travel agent.

Let's look at these alternatives. Use the internet to do the research? Expedia makes it very easy, that's the point. Are its competitors better? Maybe. How am I supposed to be able to tell? Is Hipmunk also evil? Orbitz? Some other random website I find which compares hotels? If I use these websites to do my research and then book directly, I'm avoid some of the problems -- but probably not all?

Go to a reputable travel agent? No, sorry. That's a pain in the ass.

I'm disappointed in this article. It makes a very convincing case that we should avoid huge internet travel monopolies, but yet doesn't compellingly suggest what I should do instead.

www.roomkey.com is the hotel franchises attempt to get control back of online reservations.

Also, the best method is simply finding out the hotel's phone number via Google or TripAdvisor, and speaking with someone at the hotel. This way, you can guarantee yourself a certain room at a certain location in the hotel, away from traffic noise, on the 2nd floor, etc. I recommend TripAdvisor for reviews, they have an option where hotel managers can sign up and respond to guest complaints.

You get to see only a limited selection of the chain hotels that participate with RoomKey which doesn't replace the primary function of the OTAs which is to compare many different options at once (vs looking them up, checking each website, etc.)

No hotel will guarantee a specific room but with any booking engine you're able to put in specific requests in the comments area that the hotel will try and honor. To have the best chance of getting those rooms, you actually have to talk to the hotel around the time of room assignment (24-48 hours prior to arrival) so that they can actually do something about your request. Check out the floor plans and virtual views we've compiled at room77.com for ~3,000 hotels to get some specific room numbers to ask for.

Having floor plans available is a great idea! Unfortunately, I searched a few hotels, but was unable to find any. Do you have any example hotels, or am I not looking at the right place on the website?

Sure, here's the Omni California Hotel (https://www.room77.com/hotel-los-angeles-omni-los-angeles-ho...). We rank the rooms based on preferences that you set with the radio buttons at the top and we generate the views automatically using Google Earth technology. We recently added in the ability to look multiple directions from a room and see a stitched 180-degree version.

We have about 3,000 hotels for which we have floor plans and views for mostly in the US and over 16,000 that have unique "Insider Tips" about what rooms are best in a hotel. We search 200,000+ hotels so that content is a bit hard to find right now and we're working on exposing it more. We continue to add more content daily.

Would love any feedback you have.

I love it! One thing I would like to see before booking a room are dated panoramic images of a typical room, so you have some idea of what to expect. It's not an easy problem though, since each room is different, and someone has to update all the info and verify. The layout and "Our Take" sections are awesome though.

We tried to do that early on and the problem we ran into was that as a metasearch, we're sourcing in rooms from many different sellers and each one likes to name their room selection something different. You add to this that some rates are "flexible" and you could actually get one of several types of rooms and we run into a matching problem.

Today, travelers can pick their seats on a flight or pick their cabin on a cruise but yet you're still not able to pick a hotel room for various reasons. If the industry moves to support this model, we'll be there with our room data ready and willing to integrate.

I think a lot of the evils in the world continue because of your sort of attitude. Merry Christmas!

Okay, please tell me what I should do instead, if you grant me:

(1) I cannot easily garner which big corporations are "evil" and which are good. I do not have any practical way of finding out about hotels elsewhere without going through some large corporation. Whether it be Expedia, Hotels.com, Hipmunk (okay, Hipmunk is probably smaller), Google, Yelp... I have heard complaints about all of them. If I switch from Expedia to something else, am I doing better?

(2) My time is valuable. If two minutes of effort on my part would divert $20 from Expedia to an independent hotelier, and everything would otherwise be the same for me, then I would happily do this.

Sometimes, surely it would. But it is my experience that this often takes more effort than it should, the first phone number I call often turns out not to be the right number, or the price will be higher, or I get put on hold, etc., etc.

And for that matter, don't travel agents charge commissions too? They have to eat, so someone has to pay them. I don't want to pay extra, and if the hoteliers pay the commissions, then is this better than Expedia?

Grant me at least that the solution is not obvious.

The solution isn't obvious, but you can't blame a small hotel in Mexico for not providing the answer.

It's very easy to say "X is bad, you shouldn't do X." It's a lot more difficult (and a lot more valuable) to be able to say "You should do Y instead of X, and here is a convincing argument why."

Pointing out that a problem exists is still valuable.

Yes and no. It can be counterproductive if it causes people to abandon what's actually the best solution, just because it's less than perfect.

The article wasn't a convincing argument enough?

The article didn't include a Y.

It did, but not a very convincing one.

I think he is right that even small hotel in Mexico should provide easy to find information online. This kind of incompetence from small biz owners is simply not excusable today.

On everything else related to their treatment by Expedia I am all with them.

What? They make it very clear. They ask you to book directly with these hotels. What more were you looking for?

The main problem is that Expedia is really great for customers like us since they really help us in making better and (cheaper) decision when booking a flight.

I think this should be fixed with either suing the company and the people involved (granted everything they wrote is true) or talking to a high level manager who could look into the case and make the right decision (ie. Fire the people who were involved).

Use Expedia to find the names of the hotels in the area. Then pick up the phone.

Tried that before. Oftentimes they end up having rates that are 2x what the websites offer.

Yup, even when the front page for the hotel (or airline) claims to "always have the lowest rate". Sometimes you can call and negotiate a price match, but it's easier to just book through the online agent. Since online prices are occasionally unavailable, it's most reliable to actually buy online, then negotiate a better price directly, then cancel the online booking, but this is borderline abuse of the online agent and you have to be careful with the cancellation policy.

Sounds like a problem calling out for a solution.

I know people in the hospitality business, and all third party travel websites (and travel agents) are bad for the traveler and hotel, for a few simple reasons.

1) Middlemen always need their cut. In this case, you pay the website, and then the website pays the hotel less.

2) By bypassing the middleman (call the hotel directly, and speak to that specific location's on site employees), you SHOULD be able to get a better deal. Simply compare prices, and if you find it cheaper on a website, ask the hotel to give you 5% off. Any competent manager will do this because it costs much more than 5% to get your reservation from a travel agent. Obviously, they will have to verify that third party price, but in the case of Expedia, they can just search it.

3) Additionally, it's good to book directly with the hotel for the following reasons too (or at least call them directly after booking online to confirm):

-In the fine print of travel websites' T&C, it will say you are guaranteed A room, not THE room you want. This means if only smoking rooms are available, the third party site will still sell it to you as a non smoking room. Also, there are many incompatibilities in the GDS/Central reservation system software, so there is a chance there can be an error in your reservation.

-Third party reservations don't go to the hotel with the guest's contact information. This means if the hotel wants to contact you about some issue, they cannot reach you, and the websites won't give out the guest's information. This was a big problem during Sandy a few months ago.

All in all, third party websites are a relic of the times when hotels did not have the technical expertise to implement internet reservation systems. Nowadays, you can just look up the hotel's reviews on TripAdvisor, call the hotel directly, and make sure you get the room you want by speaking with someone directly at the property, with actual knowledge of the place. The ONLY benefit these third party websites can provide, seems to be with the bundling of hotels/flights/rental cars, but I still wouldn't use them. Going straight to the vendor has been the more pleasant experience for me.

Edit: I should have noted that my knowledge comes from US and British hotels, mostly franchises like IHG/Hilton/Choice/Wyndham.

Full disclosure, I work for an OTA and CRS (central reservation service) specializing in boutique hotels.

1. Often the hotels themselves charge the customer, and pay the OTA commission on a monthly basis.

2. Many contracts between hotels and availability services mandate that the hotel provide the lowest rate to the OTA, and that if they use several that the rates are in parity with each other. If you find a lower rate by going to the hotel directly, there's a chance that they are breaching contract.

3. The OTA can only be as accurate as the hotelier providing it with information. If the customer is not satisfied, we get a partial refund or credits for future bookings. For our more remote hotels, sometimes they have to throw up a satellite transmitter once a week and update the information they are telling the world about themselves. If they are on a good CRS, it will fan-out that information to many online sites.

The OTA I'm at does provide the hotel with the customer's information, and requires that all communications between the hotel and customer are CC'd to them. This is because when the customer calls our customer service with a problem, we want to know what the back-and-forth between them and the hotel was so we can address the issue more objectively.

Third party websites yield value to people who feel like being backed by the OTA's brand to ensure that they receive the experience they paid for. They offer comfort insurance, and will go through the hassle of fixing problems with the hotel for you. For hotels, the agency may also forward their information to google and bid on ad placement. The one I'm at also guarantees certain perks to people who book through us, and offer a membership program for travelers to receive champagne on arrival, breakfast, transportation, etc... It sounds like you've really been burned by the lower end OTA's. Sorry for the blatant spam, but maybe you'd be interested in TabletHotels.com

Thank you for providing the perspective from an OTA's side. I shouldn't have said all OTAs are bad. It seems as though your organization operates quite differently than the bigger OTAs, and from the list of services you provide, I think your market may be quite different than the one I'm referring to (i.e. higher end, less commoditized).

However, for run of the mill franchise hotels, the quality control is already being provided for by franchises (i.e. Marriot, Hilton, Choice, Wyndham, IHG, Accor, etc). In my experience, third party reservations at these places is only a hindrance because the OTAs don't guarantee room types, so people show up expecting a certain type of room, but the OTA takes whatever is available from the hotel, even if it's not what the guest wants, and then the hotel has to deal with the fallout when the guest arrives.

> Simply compare prices, and if you find it cheaper on a website, ask the hotel to give you 5% off.

I did. The staff told me they sold a number of rooms well in advance, and the travel site does the pricing with a guaranteed return to the hotel. To the hotel, it doesn't matter how much they are selling it for, but they can do only what is listed on the site.

Also, many 3 star rated hotels don't have online reservations.

I should have noted that my experience is with Hilton/IHG/other American/British hotels. I don't have much experience with international hotels in other countries though. But I do know that it is not typical for hotels to sell rooms to Expedia/Travelocity/Hotels.com/Orbitz/Priceline. They may have a special arrangement, but I doubt it.

Basically, the hotel manager can decide to make rooms available to those travel agents, and then they are displayed on Expedia's website. If someone buys it via Expedia, then Expedia sends over a reservation to the hotel's Central Reservation System with just the guest's name, and Expedia's card, and the system is instructed to NOT print receipts or room rates for the guest, so that they do not find out what Expedia is paying the hotel.

What you were told may be true, but I bet it was just a desk clerk that didn't know any better.

I usually book hotels between 24 and 12 hours before checkin, usually before leaving the previous hotel. This is because most of my hotel bookings are on motorbike tours and are dependent on weather, roads and whimsy. A single interface is much easier to deal with, and I seldom stay at chain hotels. OTAs have made my style of trip way way easier.

    First of all they have a well-deserved reputation for bad customer service. 
    Google the words “Expedia bad customer service” and see what comes up.

Anecdotal I know, but I've used Expedia twice, and will never use them again.

It took a year and an offer to take the case to court before they issued a refund, and the second time they just screwed all the bookings up with no apology or comment upon complaint.

To add something contrary to this, i had the opposite experience. I had to cancel a flight/hotel booking at short notice because I couldn't go. They said normally they charge for that but this time would let me do it free. Replies were fast and prompt at awkward times of day etc.

I have experienced pretty good customer experience with Expedia as well. However we're not talking about the end customers here but rather the suppliers (of services).

I wouldn't want to use a company (no matter how good they are) who have been known for crushing smaller players to maximize their bottom line.

When the cost to enforce a contract is higher than the value of the contract, then there is no justice. Small businesses are left with what is effectively vigilante justice, writing blog posts and appealing to the public directly.

Frankly I'm biased against large organizations in general, and so I'm tempted to take this post at face value, and get angry with Expedia. And perhaps that's the right thing to do (although, as someone else pointed out, some e-mail quotes, screenshots, or other corroborating evidence would make for a more convincing story). But I can't help but think that we're all missing the big picture: that the high price of justice creates an enormous advantage for large companies. That justice is priced out of most people's ability.

I used to hear about how 'litigious' American society has become. And yet, is that really true? Personal injury is no doubt quite popular. What what about simple fraud and breech of contract? What about conspiracy to commit fraud?

Unless the justice system is priced for people to actually use it, then it's useless. So the question arises: what cheaper options does the OP have for pursuing this case?

I see Expedia as no different from traditional middle-men (travel agents). If I search a flight+hotel deal on Expedia, I can always get the exact same price by booking directly with the airline and hotel, and without the potential hassles described in the article.

Perhaps it's naive, but I feel safer booking direct, because then if I have any problems, I'm dealing with a first-party and it's harder to be given the three-way runaround.

One thing I learned on a trip this summer is that Delta will charge an extra fee to change tickets if they were booked through expedia.

I don't know if other airlines do this too but if I'm flying Delta it is a motivator to book directly. Which I'm sure is the point.

Interesting to know. I personally avoid Delta, United, American, and a few others if at all possible. My main airlines are:

Virgin America


Alaska Airlines

In that order with JetBlue mixed in somewhere in there. Helps to have a narrow set if you are racking up air miles and I've had HORRID experiences with the others. I only take them if I have to now

The best strategy with flying I've found is to pick one Legacy carrier/alliance if you're a frequent traveler (because they treat their folks with status quite well, at the expense of everyone else). If you don't fly >25k miles/year, do what you do.

Pretty much this. Pick an airline based on convenience, and sign up for the frequent-flyer program.

So many of the negatives associated with air travel typically boil down to shopping based solely on base price, with zero brand loyalty, and then being surprised that the airline doesn't treat you as well as a repeat customer who buys (or has an employer who buys) full-fare tickets. And so much of the difference between the full and discounted fares typically gets made up one way or another; either you're paying about the same as someone who bought "discount" but now is getting socked with fees left and right to check bags, use power outlets, etc., or often it just evens out over the course of enough flights.

I'm a Gold member on United, and Silver on Delta. United treats me fairly well [when they have an issue they pass me on to US Airways]. I've had massive issues with Delta.

Honestly, I'm not thrilled about Southwest. They'll get you there... but eh.

I have flown pretty much all the legacy carriers, including the ones that merged out of existence.

Delta is by far the worst I've dealt with. No other carrier even comes close on that score.

I'm currently with US Airways (Platinum) for various reasons; they've treated me pretty well, their hubs are decent enough, routes are convenient, and they fly real planes rather than cramped CRJ lawn darts in and out of my home airport (Kansas City). And it's comforting to know, at the moment, that if they do screw up horribly I have other options within the alliance, though the looming prospect of the AA merger is going to lead to some serious thinking about whether I should just do it pre-emptively.

Among the low-cost carriers I don't mind Southwest so much. They're kind of the Chipotle of airlines; you know what you're going to get, you know it's not the greatest but also not the worst, and they have some quirky branding and service aspects that inspire loyalty among their regular customers. If I were going to fly an LCC, though, I'd probably pick Frontier just because they give a bit more bang for the buck on the routes I'm most likely to fly.

You might have been somewhat fortunate finding the same direct price. I'm aware that Expedia is large enough to get bulk discounts from airlines that aren't always publicly offered to direct passengers.

It probably has to do with being located in Canada.

The rationale for the discounts is that you don't know (or at least it's non-obvious), whether the discount is coming from the flight or the hotel. If the "Book together and save" amount is positive then you'll generally be getting a better deal than direct. You might see the same total price occasionally but it certainly won't be the case the majority of the time.

I see few posts where people are in doubt. This behavior is unfortunatly their business model. Mark "non participating" hotels as full and listen against their will and trick users to more expensive/hotels they get more commissions from. Not long ago they even lost in court around this in Norway http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&...

Here's my reason for avoiding Expedia.

A few years ago I booked a trip to the UK to visit some friends. The morning I was supposed to leave, I get an email from one of my friends saying that I should check if my flight is still on, because there is "something going on with a volcano in Iceland". Turns out it's the start of that major eruption and all air traffic in Northern Europe is grounded with no foreseeable reopening.

I first called the airline, Virgin Atlantic. They were very friendly, apologetic, and as helpful as possible. They said they could reschedule me, but given all the unknowns they weren't making any new bookings for at least 2 weeks. Now this was a two week vacation I was taking, with lots of other things scheduled, so I couldn't really just up and shift the whole thing two weeks on a whim. They would have gladly given a refund, but since I booked through Expedia, I had to talk to them. That's when things started going downhill.

First of all, even on what I'm sure was a crazy customer service day, the people at Virgin answered the phone in minutes and were quite friendly. The Expedia call took almost an hour to be answered. Every agent I spoke too was borderline rude and confrontational, and had the worst broken English of any oversees call center I've dealt with. From the start they only wanted to argue, that because it was the day of the flight, I could neither cancel or reschedule. Finally, after about 90 minutes of arguing and being transferred, I got to a high enough manager who actually seemed to listen to what I said and not just be reading a script, and got my refund authorized. And I thought it was over.

Months go by and the credit never appears back to my card. I call Expedia a couple times, each time they say it is being processed by the CC company, but it can take up to 90 days. I check with the CC, they have no record of the credit. Finally after 90 days, I get a hold of Expedia and they say it is fine if I just have the CC company cancel the transaction on their end (as a dispute), as there must have been a "glitch" somewhere. And that flipped the trouble switch.

Apparently there is an automated system in Expedia, if you dispute their charge with you CC company, they automatically flip it to a collections agency. A few months after I did, I got a very threatening letter and phone call saying I owed the charge plus penalties and interest. If I did not pay, they would flag my credit rating and possibly take further legal action. I contacted Expedia again to ask WTF is going on, and their response was that they are not allowed to communicate with the collections agency once the matter has been given to them. They were confident that if i just explained why I didn't owe the money, the collections guys would drop it. But they couldn't provide me with any documentation to give them.

After another month of letters and phone calls with the collections agents, and quite a bit of stress on my end, I stopped hearing from them so I guess it was resolved.

Keep in mind, all told this is about 8 months down the road from when I was originally supposed to travel. In fact I rebooked the entire trip for about a month after the original, and had already gone and come back. But definitely not with Expedia.

Totally an aside, but if you're in the US and there's a collections agency after you for a bogus debt, it's easy to make them go away: Send them a formal dispute letter under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act and advise them not to contact you further. If they do anyway, you can sue them for punitive damages.

Better yet:

Sample dispute letter: http://nedap.org/resources/documents/DisputeLetterwithElectr...

Sample "cease contact" letter: http://nedap.org/resources/documents/CeaseLetterwithElectron...

It's actually a pretty nice, common sense law. Note that if you intend to dispute the charge, you should move quickly: there's a 30 day limit from first notice.

This is an interesting piece of information, thanks! Up in Canada I have heard of stories where debt collectors will call a "John Smith", ask them for their DOB, and SIN, type that information into their debt file (which does not have this information) and make them pay. I wonder if there's similar legislation in Canada.

Just a side note, this only works for third party collectors (i.e. after your debt has been sold). In-house collections is pretty unregulated.

Good point. Though sending a certified letter disputing a debt to a first-party collections department isn't going to hurt you even if it isn't binding.

I wonder is there any similar EU law?

I doubt that there's a EU-wide norm for that yet, but in Germany, what you do is completely ignore anything the collection agency does by itself after you first tell them you think the claim is invalid. What you must not by any means ignore is the Mahnbescheid (a court notice of the claim) - reply to that immediately that you contest the claim. In most cases that will be the last thing you hear, since they'll then have to actually sue you and prove the validity of the claim to a court.

So this stops them from leaving a bad mark on your credit report?

Something similar happened to me once. I rented a car with Alamo through Expedia at Chicago ORD, pick up around 11:30 pm. My flight was a bit late, and when I got there the Alamo counter was closed. It turned out they closed at midnight. It was impossible to pick up a car from Alamo.

I called Expedia. They told me to rent a car from Hertz and pay for it, they'd pay for it. When I called Expedia on subsequent days nobody knew anything about this conversation. They refused to pay for my rental, and said that if I could prove that Alamo was closed they would refund the original rental. Of course it would be a long and tedious process.

It wasn't worth my time, so I forgot about it. Never used Expedia again.

To be fair, your flight being late is something that your travel insurance company should deal with. If airlines and travel industries had to subsidise late flights and erratic weather patterns they may go out of business. Get travel insurance, it's affordable (but read the fine print, some may have over $100 excess which makes such incidents not claimable).

That depends if Expedia inform the correct closing time of Alamo or not, I had the same problem but Expedia say that the renting car company was open 24 hours and it wasn´t

It was an Expedia vacation package (Flight + Hotel + Car) and the confirmation email said "24-hour counter." I had that conversation with the agents, that's what they said they'd refund the rental. They wouldn't bother to verify that the counter closed at midnight, I was the one who had to do all the legwork and prove it. I'm sure they were legally required to refund me regardless. They were betting that it wouldn't be worth my time to keep calling and pestering them, and they were right.

That is crazy. I've never heard of a CC credit taking up to 90 days to process, I think they just pulled that out of their ass. Also, the idea that a company would advise you to authorize a dispute/chargeback is pretty amazing (read: ridiculous). I have a fair amount of experience in this space and to me these things just shout incompetence.

Yeah, the one time that I filed a chargeback I immediately got refunded. I can't imagine it taking 90 days.

> They were confident that if i just explained why I didn't owe the money, the collections guys would drop it.

Yes, collection agencies are an understanding and forgiving bunch.

Thanks to all the folks offering support here and sharing their own stories of frustration with Expedia. We also wanted to note we are aware that our site is down. Our host server is having real troubles today and tell us things won't be fixed for 24 hours. If you need to contact us before then please email us at info@lunabluehotel.com or via our Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/lunabluehotel. Again thanks for the voices of support. Tony & Cheri Owners, Luna Blue Hotel

Why should anyone be surprised? Do you really think abuse of power is absent because a business is on the Internet? How many times have publishers had their Buy buttons removed from their books at Amazon? How many stories are there of small devs getting ripped off by Apple and Microsoft? What about late payments to devs from the Google Play Store? I will never use Expedia now. Better that I should be inconvenienced than be jerked around by smug companies out to crush small businesses.

EDIT: Typo fixed.

Travel hack: as the article points out, Expedia take 25% cut of the booking rate, which is usually the same a the hotel's direct rate.

Because the hotel will make more profit from you, you have a higher chance of getting a room upgrade at the property, better amenities or even just better service if you book direct rather than via Expedia.

Here is the funny fact, whenever I check the hotels' own websites, prices are almost always higher than Expedia's listing. Does anyone know why?

It's due to competition, and price discrimination. In highly competitive areas, other hotels will offer their rooms at a discount to Expedia/Travelocity/etc, to catch the market that visits these websites (due to the websites' marketing and reputation as being the place to go for online bookings). If a hotel doesn't offer their rooms on the third party websites, then they effectively lose those sales. I know some of the agreements will make it so that they can't advertise rooms at the rates given to travel agents, so that may be why you see it cheaper. Priceline has a different system, where each hotel provides three price levels, and if a person bids at or above a price level, then Priceline gets the difference between the price level and what the person bid.

At hotels that don't have problems selling rooms, they have no reason to offer rooms to travel agents, so you won't see any price discrepancies there. In fact, you probably won't even see the room offered on third party websites.

It make it look like a more expensive hotel. Much of the time, you can get them to match Expedia's price by asking. Think of it as price discrimination.

That's been my experience as well. The article claims it isn't true, but I know for sure it is, since I remember researching a particular hotel extensively -- I really wanted to stay there -- and Expedia was by far the lowest price. This was an overseas hotel, so I was not fond of calling them up and asking for a discount from somebody who might or might not speak English.

some time with Air tickets also

Also, you may find that the room you want is actually available even if not marked as such on the aggregated list. Unless the smaller hotel is doing business exclusively with such website, they will have to spread their available rooms manually across multiple services and manually close them once they become reserved.

That means some room may be marked open on one website and another room on another. If there's a large number of rooms open, there may be some overlap... but then overlap means a possibility of overbooking. I've seen the systems that small hotels have to deal with and really I'm surprised we don't run into overbooking more frequently.

A classic "small business is mad" blog post. It even contains the a quote about how much money they spent on their business, "We put all of our money, time and heart into making it work," as though that's a criterion Expedia uses when deciding how to respond to customer service inquiries.

I'm also surprised that the links broke and Expedia's "IT department" said they'll "never" be fixed. That doesn't really make any sense. I can't help but think that the images are hosted by the hotel itself and that they broke the images. I don't know. The story sounds plausible but unlikely to me and has all the classic "crazy person" literary features. (Some sources to back this up would be good: emails, screenshots, etc.)

I disagree on a couple of levels.

First, Expedia, as a service business, should definitely pay attention to passionate customers. Word of mouth matters.

Second, this lacks "all the classic 'crazy person' literary features." The copy is reasonably well written, the formatting is solid, the narrative is coherent, and it's part of a long-running blog with reasonable articles. It's a bit over-written and over-dramatic, but not egregiously so.

Ditto. Some more proofs would be great in order to establish some trust with this post. If everything written here is right then I would say they have a pretty good case in suing them. I would also argue some lawyers would even take this case (granted the proofs are solid) based on a success fee.

EDIT: I strongly recommend to read the comments, someone wrote that he witnessed this personally (of course comments could be fake but it's still something).

David Beau. said - December 4, 2012 at 11:29 pm

We can verify parts of this. We have stayed at the Luna Blue almost every year since Tony and Cheri have opened. In late 2011 I was checking on availability of the Luna Blue for our vacation. I was surprized to find expedia said they had no room available. I then checked a couple other small hotels in Playa and was told they were also full. I then contacted Cheri and found that they did have plenty of rooms. Which we did book thru the hotel.

Deanna said - December 5, 2012 at 11:03 am

I know first hand about this. I had booked a room back in Feb. to travel in November. I got an email mid Oct. from Hotels.com that Luna Blue no longer had any openings for that time. It didn’t make sense to me. After calling Hotels.com and them wanting me to book elsewhere I got hold of Cheri. She was in San Francisco at the time but took the time out to make sure I was able to rebook through their website directly for the time I had originally booked. I was also able to save 10% off what I had originally expected to pay. We went and stayed at Luna Blue and it was truly a wonderful experience. Cheri was out of town when we came so I was not able to meet her but Tony made us feel welcome and we wish you guys all the luck fighting this horrible thing that has happened. I would certainly stay here again if I return to Playa.

While frequently with these articles you have to wonder about the validity of all parts of the story, I can say I've had A similar experience from a consumer perspective. I was trying to book hotels for my wedding and couldn't find a hotel that I knew was in the town my in-laws lived in.

I looked up the hotel on the corporate website and it showed it as completely booked, and this particular had didn't show up in any searches for rooms because of that.

I ended up calling them and found out they had left the chain and were becoming independent and had plenty of rooms. So I can't confirm this small business' story, I Can confirm that similar things happen.

I'm not familiar with how hotels inform 3rd party websites about room reservations. Could it just be that smaller independent hotels simply don't have the technical chops to correctly set up or manage such notifications?

Just for reference in case you miss it: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4966004

Of note, the subtitle on the resulting page: [Expedia and companies] Portrayed [hotels] as fully booked even though they were not.

I guess you never read the full story, you can clearly see a link to evidence of Expedia doing the same thing in France and getting sued for it: http://www.tnooz.com/2010/04/19/news/tripadvisor-and-expedia.... Just think about it, if a huge company with hundreds of lawyers still got sued for these tricks - I bet they have done lot's of similar things and got away with it.

Also a part regarding images not hosted on Expedia. Do you really think such a big company as Expedia will allow to host images on hotel's own servers? It's impossible to handle Expedias traffic with a small shared hosting which most of the small hotels are using...

I tend to find the story believable. I just replace "Expedia" with "Apple" or "Google" and hotel with "app" or "adwords account."

The screenshots of email is a feature of tech industry rants - an industry which tends to take email as more self verifying than the general populace.

I work for an OTA and this is likely not Expedia per se, but the local office trying to up the value of their sales. Small hotels are always going to have more problems than a big chain, as they don't have any real time data connection to provide availability and room information. Either they send in their information and hope someone enters it correctly, or they are provided with access to a portal they can manage their own data in. If the local property manager is only interested in getting credit for high value sales and the small property owner doesn't have access to the portal, then likely the manager can screw them over so that people wind up at the more valuable properties. OTA's prefer data connections because that way the data is more up to date. It also means any errors are the fault of the chain (unless the hotel system itself has bugs).

By making Expedia aware of how their local managers are operating they might actually get this fixed. No OTA wants this kind of bad publicity. Just the US alone my employer (and its parent company) have nearly 300,000 hotels available. Keeping the data current is a massive pain at that scale since at the other end are individual people.

Also note that for most OTA's there are only a couple providers of hotel photos and one dominant one, and we all hate them as they suck terribly. Unless you are a speciality provider like Oyster or Hotel Tonight and can take the few photos you need, or are Tripadvisor and can get customers to take them, you are at the mercy of the photo provider.

So a quality bitching can get you better service (as a hotel provider) from an OTA. Even better is make a deal with someone who provides small hotels with data management (which does cost money) so that your room availability is all electronic.

The hotel business is all about filling rooms. The average hotel hopes for 70% rooms filled tonight. OTA's do provide a lot of hotel bookings so you can't do without them. But if the local OTA hotel property manager sucks there are 4 major players you can deal with (plus all the speciality ones). Yes you have to give them a commission (20%+ usually) but if you work with them correctly they can fill your rooms.

What's the name of the dominant hotel photo provider? Any particular reason why they suck so terribly? Just curious to see if it might be an easy problem for a new player to solve.

Outrageous if true, though I'm inclined to blame Expedia's incompetence rather than intentional misdirection...

A bit of a shame because I've found Expedia to be pretty decent for booking flights (though that's mostly by way of comparison with other sites; most flight booking sites are jaw-droppingly horrible...).

Try Hipmunk.com.... best flight search I've seen. It the refers you to the airline's page to complete the booking. No sketchy third-party to buy from.

It's visualization of flights schedules is awesome!

It would be great if this blog post were picked up by a legit news organization, researched and fact checked, cross referenced with other stories (like the French one) and published more widely as an expose.

This is bad for consumers and bad for hotels. I like small local hotels. I want them to succeed. I want an easier way to connect with them. They are hard to find on hotels.com, etc. and I always assumed it was because the owners didn't maintain the listing, but it seems it's because expedia doesn't care.

Been using Expedia for 14 years, though not exclusively. Contrary to the post, they often post discounts unavailable elsewhere, particularly for combos. For example recently, the regular rate at Wynn Las Vegas was around $200 a night in December but with an Expedia flight it worked out to $140 a night. This is the discount they usually give their mid level Red Card members, if I recall correctly (upper get RFB).

I've also used Expedia to book a stay in Cancun a few years ago; they had a number of mom and pop hotels listed with rich details, but Ultimately I got a great combo rate at the Ritz Carlton (like $240 - it was about a week before the season really began); this rate was not available on the Ritz website.

I have had some bad experiences with Expedia when requesting refunds or changes, though this has improved over the past 2 years with more software features and slightly better call center agents (ymmv).

Ultimately I'll book direct with the hotel or airline if I have a specific reason to (schedule, FF points, upgrades, etc), but for easy price comparison and research I tend to rely on Kayak and Expedia almost exclusively.

This posting has not changed my mind that they offer a good service - they seem to have issues with their Latin American offices.

This is a known problem and I see no reason not to believe every word Tony & Cheri writes.

Check out this (poorly tranlated) article from Norway:


This is fucking disgusting, and these scumbags (together with tripadvisor) have polluted Google's search results.

No matter what hotel you're googling for, your search results will be chock-full of these bastards.

Don't lump them together. Tripadvisor has lots of high quality hotel reviews. I can forgive a lot of annoying ads for that.

> Secondly they do not offer discounted rates as many claim.

In Denmark at least, I have found that they typically do offer discounted rates that the hotel's own website doesn't offer, especially for smaller hotels during periods of lower demand. If you're booking off-season at the last minute, I've found discounts on hotels.com of 40-60% relative to what the online-booking system of the hotel's own website was showing. One example where I've stayed a few times (http://www.hotel-maritime.dk/) was offering €50/night via hotels.com in late January 2012, at a time when their own website was listing €80/night. It's frequent enough that I advise my friends visiting Copenhagen to always check a hotel's rate on hotels.com before booking through the hotel's website, in case there's a substantial difference.

The price advertised at a hotel is called the "Rack Rate". Never pay that. Phone the hotel and get a real price from them. It's a weird system, but you'll get the same price as an OTA is offering. Often less, if you ask and quote the OTA price.

I guess I could do that, but I generally prefer to book on the internet. Phones tend to result in dealing with international phone calls, being on hold, reading credit-card numbers over the phone, and that kind of hassle. Plus, the discovery/comparison-shopping experience is considerably worse. Some hotels offer the same discounted rates through their own websites, and I do book with them directly if they do. If they don't, but somewhere else on the internet does offer the discounted rates, then I prefer that option to calling.

>>> "a long, detailed list describing our rooms"

Hint: a red flag right there. You're selling what's perceived as standardized commodity. If a long and detailed list made the job of corporate copy-and-paster hard, imagine potential customer confusion.

I don't use Expedia as I've found their service to be horrible, and their technology in the early days had all kinds of issues with losing session and the like, so I abandoned them 10+ years ago.

I do use Orbitz. I'm not sure if they are guilty of the same sins, but I've generally found their service to be adequate. I book directly with airlines when it makes sense and doesn't take too much effort - but most hotel booking sites are horrible and prices are usually higher.

It would be great if an open platform like AirBNB emerged for hotels - perhaps AirBNB itself.

> It wasn’t cheap, as Expedia takes 25 % of every booking made through their sites–a fact that hotels are forbidden by Expedia to disclose to guests.

This is forbidden to be disclosed because business contract details are covered under an NDA they signed with Expedia. 25% is their negotiated commission but it will vary by partner and hence they don't want that being disclosed to be used as leverage in negotiations with other hotels.

> For the most availability, best prices and service, always book directly with a hotel.

This may be the case with the Luna Blue, but is definitely not what we at Room 77 see in the marketplace. We're connecting with the GDS and pretty much every major OTA in the US (Expedia, Orbitz, Booking.com, Priceline, etc.) and what we're seeing is increasing price fragmentation in the marketplace. This is why we fundamentally believe that metasearch is a better model for the consumer since prices and availability do vary.

> Secondly they do not offer discounted rates as many claim.

As someone else mentioned, even if a rate is not discounted against the rate the hotel has directly, it may be a promotion against the regular rate and you have to factor in the loyalty programs that exist on many OTA sites (Hotels.com book 10 get 1 free, Agoda 4% rewards, etc.). The most probable reason that an OTA has a lower rate is that the room availability has changed. For example, a hotel has two types of rooms (A & B) may have presold a percentage to Expedia and if the hotel has sold their own allocation of room type A and only has room type B left, the lowest price the hotel has for ANY room is the price of room type B. Expedia may then show a lower price for a hotel because they still have room type A available to sell to travelers since they own that percentage of inventory that was presold to them.

The core value proposition of booking through an online agency wasn't really addressed by Tony and Cheri which is that people by and large don't want to shop a single hotel's price and availability. When I want to go to Playa del Carmen, I want to see ALL options I have in an area and compare hotels and rates and the easiest way to do that is through an OTA or a metasearch engine.

Booking directly through a hotel has it's own advantages which include: 1) payment is usually not required until you arrive at the hotel, 2) you earn the hotel's loyalty points if they have a program, and 3) the hotel will prioritize your booking for upgrades, etc. since they didn't have to pay a large commission.

From my perspective working at a metasearch company, we want to provide maximum choice and availability of options/inventory so we show both direct hotel inventory and OTA inventory and let consumers decide which one they want to choose.

Dear small business hotel

Yes, Expedia sucks, but here's what you should do

YOU make your website and booking system available on the web. Make people able to google your hotel and get there. (Edit: this seems to be already in place)

If I search your hotel on Expedia and it shows no dates available, I begin to suspect Expedia, or your integration of systems with them.

And if they really say your hotel is going out of business, get a lawyer. Edit: get a lawyer NOW

I stopped booking with Expedia when there was a problem with an incorrect flight time. Delta said they couldn't do anything and I'd have to resolve with Expedia. Expedia said they couldn't do anything, and I'd have to resolve with Delta. I had a clearly nonsensical flight plan (I was scheduled to be at the destination for 1 hour), and no way to resolve it. I gave up on both businesses.

It sounds like they aren't very savvy business people, but when I'm looking to stay somewhere that does not matter. A 16 room boutique hotel is never going to get a ton of attention from a large travel agency, there's no profit in it. They'd be better off marketing directly to their target demographic and trying for word of mouth / repeat business.

I have had great luck with Hotwire (an Expedia subsidiary) and have discovered many neat hotels with it. I live in Florida and frequently book hotel room on the various beaches for easy short vacations, the only motivator is location and price (if nothing is available, I don't go). I have booked directly at some of the places I found, but if it weren't for their being on Hotwire I never would have found them.

Also, the cost savings with Hotwire is frequently massive (50% off is not uncommon)--I haven't been able to book directly for cheaper (the trick is Hotwire doesn't tell you the exact hotel before you book, so if you want to ensure the same property you need to direct book and pay more).

I also have had good experiences with Hotwire. One helpful note: if you do a little looking around on the internet, it's usually pretty easy to figure out which hotel they're offering based on location and amenities.

To be honest, i'll still book where it's cheapest. Usually i use a lot of those sites, including tripadvisor, etc. to check for accomodations and in the end i'll book where it's cheapest. I'll check on google maps for hotels, check online pricing, but in the end.. when the hotel itself is more expensive (plus expedia and co offer me a good meta search not only one hotel!).. why should i pay more for "less"?!

Never had problems with expedia&co myself but i rarely need to cancel/change reservations.

It's not my fault that the whole hotel business doesn't seem to be capable enough to do this on their own.

Friendly PSA from someone who has dealt with lying businessmen and customer service reps: record all your conversations. Be careful to notify them that you are recording the conversation if you live in a two-party consent state.

In fact, letting them know you are recording them is a great way to get them to take you seriously. I've gotten a phone call from a VP of a company, wishing to "settle our differences" to my satisfaction once word got to him that I had recorded a conversation with a beligerent rep.

I wonder if we can repay them and play the same game they are playing. Maybe if many of us reblog/post and link to that amazing detailed blog post with the anchor text being "advertise with expedia" - maybe when new hotels who will want to advertise with Expedia (and google about it) will be able to read about that horrible experience.

Since this was posted on 5 December and has a fair amount of attention now, I'm surprised that Expedia hasn't officially responded yet. Maybe because so much of the attention has come in the past couple of days. I sent them a Tweet asking what was going on, and I notice someone posted this on their Facebook Page.

One does not simply post something on a business's Facebook page. Either the page has to share it or the viewer has to make two clicks to see it.

Well, it's there[1] and a bunch of people seem to have seen it. Expedia has replied to posts made by others after this one but they seem to be ignoring this.

[1] https://www.facebook.com/naptown/posts/295460857241207

Well, that's exactly why we created http://live.Roomixer.com A Guest Exchange marketplace where Guest Rejections can be bought and sold. If hotels would cooperate with other hotels there would be less work for Expedia!

You don't want to book airline tickets with Expedia. If they are cheaper, they are only slightly cheaper, and you'll have to deal with Expedia when things go wrong. The airline gives a minor discount due to pushing over customer service to Expedia.

Expedia is (allegedly) lying about one of their “partner” hotels in a way that drives customers away from the hotel. Isn’t this the kind of thing that a lawyer would call “tortious interference with business relationships”?

If Expedia is misrepresenting the status of the smaller hotels and cutting them out then I think that is a type of fraud or collusion with the bigger hotels. It is at the least, a policy that is antagonistic to competition.

Given the owner's complaint, I find it odd that when I clicked the Room & Amenities link at the bottom of lunabluehotel.com, the link was dead, or at least, timing out repeatedly.

Well that explains some of the weirdness I've seen for hotels that Expedia said were booked out where it didn't seem likely (dead season).

I've never booked with Expedia because they have never offered a better price than I can get from the travel agent in my neighbourhood.

What are good alternatives to expedia that provide good customer service and are also friendly to small businesses?

I will NEVER book from Expedia, the end!!!

Since their rep double booked the room I had already booked online (which I told him) and I released expedia points weren't worth shit, I've been using hotels.com. Free night every 10. That's pretty sweet. (Note, I have no affiliation w/ hotels.com or whatever, it's just what works for me).

Wish I hadn't wasted all those nights getting expedia points worth what $10 bux maybe after 20+ nights?

Fuck that.

I disagree with this post. Never had any issues with expedia. Always use them for air/hotel bookings and they are awesome. They do a really good job filtering out the junk "non-chain" hotels and making clear to the buyer that what they are getting it high quality.

You disagree from the point of an end customer. If you have no hotel preference and are mis-directed away from certain partners to those that pay better commission then to you it has been a good experience. Just because they have got you good bookings, does not mean they haven't lied and screwed people over in the process.

Nothing in your comment explains why you disagree with the post, however. Nothing you are saying is contrary to the original article.

What the post is saying is that they also do a really good job filtering out the non-junk "non-chain" hotels, making life difficult for the independent hotelier.

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