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sep 01 2010

OTA update: Orbitz makes hotel-search improvements

In the past, Orbitz has earned our kudos in the past for its customer-friendly attitude. The company's Price Assurance program sends an automatic refund if another Orbitz customer books the same hotel room for the same night for less. And with the Enhanced Low Price Guarantee (which we blogged about last fall) travelers who find their hotel room for a lower price on another site can get a refund for the difference and a $50 discount on a future Orbitz booking. Plus, Orbitz also shows up-front prices with taxes and fees included—a particularly nice feature for us budget travelers.

Orbitz was founded as an airline-booking site 10 years ago and has lost a little ground to other huge OTAs who have focused on hotel bookings, like Expedia and Priceline. Orbitz CEO Barney Harford was quoted in the Chicago Tribune recently, saying his focus for the past year has been: "hotel, hotel, hotel."

So, it's no wonder Orbitz is working to improve its hotel search. Now, let's get to the good stuff!

What's new: Orbitz now displays its hotel search results in a pleasing, easy-to-navigate template. Each hotel has "tabs" that you can click on to get photos, a list of amenities, and a map. You can "save" hotels to go back to later, and of course you can sort all results by lowest price, star rating, or location.

Here's what's exciting, at least for a quick decision-maker like me: You can compare hotels side-by-side on the same web page, without having to navigate away. For instance, I decided to check out hotels in Paris. In the "photos" tab, I found a photo of a guestroom in each hotel. By scrolling down, I could quickly look at what my room would look like in each hotel, without having to click elsewhere (or line up different web browsers, which I have admittedly done before).

This gets even cooler when you use Google Street View. Within the same framework of the search-results page, you can click on the "map" tab and then click on "street view." Spin it around and see what the hotel environs are. I was completely in love with a hotel on the outskirts of Paris (an all-suites property that started at just $133!) until I realized, via street view, that this place was right by the airport. Like, depressingly close—I could see the airport in street view.

Naturally, Orbitz's new look and feel isn't perfect; I wish there was an "under $200" search option, which would be great for budget travelers. Also, comparing hotels side-by-side is certainly nice, but there's no way to move the hotels around within the search results, so there's still a lot of scrolling. And I couldn't figure out how to get into my saved hotels and compare those side-by-side—the saved hotels appear as just a list.

But, overall, it's great to see a huge OTA like Orbitz freshen up its look. The question is, what do you think? What else would you like to see from Orbitz in the future?

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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