If you’re booking your hotel through online travel retailers, you’d be better off logging onto the site and using your cell phone, according to researchers at Northwestern University.
Looking at hotel-pricing from Cheap Tickets, Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Priceline and Hotels.com, the researchers found significant differences in two aspects of the presentation: manipulation of the order and price categories of the hotels presented, and the different pricing offered to different consumers. The test, conducted last spring, included anonymous searches through proxy computers, through personal computers allowing “cookies” and from Apple phones. The researchers also randomly logged on to websites as members.
The results were pretty stark:
Cheap Tickets and Orbitz, which are actually the same company, presented hotels in a different order to users who were logged in as registered members than to those who weren’t logged in as members or did not have any stored cookies. And the known users were offered a better price, $12 cheaper on average, than users who were not known.
Hotels.com and Expedia, which also have common ownership, didn’t offer different pricing to known and unknown users, but, in general, steered the unknown users to higher price categories of hotels.
Priceline also didn’t show any differentiation in pricing between its known users and those not logged in, but its presentations made to the two groups were different.
Travelocity, which is now merged into Expedia, did not differentiate its pricing between the two groups, but offered users of iPhones prices that were on average $15 lower per night than the pricing it offered to computer users.
The researchers also looked at some of the meta sites, such as Trip Advisor and Kayak, but determined they pass their users on to the primary online travel websites to make the actual purchase, so they don’t alter pricing or presentations in any way.
The bottom line of the study is that logging into online travel accounts may be worth the nuisance. You’re better off using your iPhone and it’s definitely a good idea to check both online travel sites and the primary sites of the hotels themselves.