Yesterday morning the Wall Street Journal announced that Orbitz shows higher hotel prices to Mac users than to PC users. Orbitz acknowledged this in a statement as well.
Before you start drafting an angry letter to their CEO here's an important disclaimer: they're not showing the same hotel at different prices—they're showing different hotels at different prices.
It's not a scam. They're doing it because they believe that Mac users want to see higher hotel prices. And they didn't come up with this idea after a three-martini brainstorming lunch either—they arrived at the concept after months of tracking user preferences. They found that Mac users are 40% more likely to book a 4 or 5 star hotel than a PC user.
This is one of the drawbacks (or benefits, as you see it) of tracking behavior online. If you're looking for upscale hotels, you might be grateful not to have to sort through all of the bargain properties to find what you're looking for. On the other hand, if you're looking for a bargain, you're going to have take an extra step to find it on Orbitz (fortunately it's easy—just select the "sort by price" option on the screen and they'll list the properties by price).
Nonetheless, all of this reminded me of how important it is to be smart about finding good deals—no matter what platform you're on. Here are some tips:
1. Shop around and keep your cache clean. Don't just visit one site and call it day. Compare prices in different places (Expedia, Travelocity, Cheapoair, Kayak). In between searches, clear your cache to keep sites from tracking your behavior.
2. Watch prices. Keep abreast of airfare prices via a site like FareCompare so you know how prices are trending and can recognize a deal when you see one.
3. Use new tools. Widen your net by searching with HotelSweep.com, a site that searches smaller, independent properties that aren't listed on major online travel agencies like Orbitz or Expedia. After you book, share your reservation with Backbid.com, a site that reaches out to nearby hotel competitors to see if any of them will extend you a better offer (or a nicer room for the same price).
4. Consider a vacation rental. Vacation rentals can be a great way to experience the local culture and save money at the same time. Two of my favorite rental sites are AirBnB and Roomorama.
5. Look for packages. Some resorts are still hurting and by bundling in airfare or car rentals, they can lower their prices while still preserving their brand integrity. If you do your research you can find some good deals.
6. Check out independent deal sites. Find great deals by using a site that will vouch for the savings for you. We do this in our Real Deals section where we find and vet deals for you. DealBase is another site that does this.
7. Be smart about when you book. Studies have found that airfares tend to drop midweek, so plan your booking between Tuesday and Thursday. If you can swing it, try to lock in airfare prices at least 8 weeks in advance. Hotels should be booked as soon as possible (tip: If you book on the site Tingo.com they will monitor the rate for you and automatically give you a refund if the rate drops).
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