Travelocity announces the launch of Top Secret Hotels

The roaming Gnome has found a new way to book hotels: Travelocity announced it will offer unpublished – or ‘opaque’ – hotel deals as part of their hotel offerings.

The concept is familiar: Find deeply discounted hotel rates based on preferred location, star-rating and amenities, but you won’t know the name of the hotel until you book. Here’s the twist: there’s no bidding, and you can see both the available hotels by name and the opaque hotels in one window.

The Top Secret Hotels tab above the general hotel listings will show users unpublished rates at participating hotels, if available. As of now, these opaque hotels include major U.S. cities, and popular cities in Canada (Montreal, Toronto, Mississauga), Mexico (Cancun, Cozumel, Puerto Vallarta, Riveria Maya, San Jose Cabo), the Caribbean (Dominican Republic, Jamaica) and South America (Buenos Aires, San Jose, Sao Paolo).

Unlike Priceline and Hotwire, where users bid on a specific hotel, Travelocity’s opaque hotels are a set price but in some cases up to 45% off the regularly published hotel room rate. Choose the opaque option and you’ll be able to filter based on the hotel’s star rating and general location, and hotel amenities and user ratings, but you won’t know the name of the hotel until you book.

Of the big four OTA’s – Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz and Priceline – Travelocity is the first to offer one search that pulls up general hotel results and opaque results in the same window. Why the change? It’s a new way to put the power of purchase in the consumers hands. I took the new site for a spin and here’s what I found:

My search included 3- to 5-star hotels in Boston for this weekend, March 27-28, between $50 and $200 night.

Travelocity returned six hotels – three in the downtown Boston area; three in neighboring suburbs. I choose the 4-star hotel located in Boston’s downtown/waterfront district, with a pool and free Internet access, a user rating of 4/5 and a lowest price per night of $105. My total came to $121.39 (nightly room rate plus taxes).On the next pages I can confirm the room, location and rate, and after putting in a credit card and securing the transaction, you’ll find out the name of the hotel.

As a comparison, I used the same specifications on Priceline and was returned one hotel that matched my needs for $189/night. Travelocity wouldn’t divulge the hotels they’re working with, but Lesley Harris, Vice President of Hotels at Travelocity, told me:

“Travelocity is responding to the needs of our customers, as well as our hotel partners. In today’s economy customers are searching for deals and hotels are looking for a way to drive bookings – Top Secret Hotels is able to accomplish both. We also know that a number of people who currently shop on our site end up going elsewhere simply to buy an opaque product, we now can save customers the hassle of going between sites by providing every type of shopper with what they need all in one place.”

The Travelocity star ratings are based on research from the Travelocity team which may include on-site inspections, post-trip customer feedback, and quality of amenities and staff, in accordance with industry standards. Travelocity sent me a copy of their rating system descriptions and it’s pretty standard:

5-star: Luxury properties that exhibit an exceptionally high degree of service and hospitality.
4-star: Superior properties with a high level of service and hospitality, as well as a wide variety of amenities and upscale facilities.
3-star: A high level of service with additional amenities, features, and facilities.
2-star: These properties meet a traveler’s basic needs for comfort and convenience while offering moderate aesthetic enhancements in the property grounds, room decor, and quality of furnishings.
1-star:These properties meet a budget-traveler’s basic needs for comfort and convenience. They tend to be located near major attractions or thoroughfares and provide clean guest rooms.

Overall, an interesting concept from Travelocity. As someone who books hotels frequently, it’s nice to have the option to choose from the exact hotel property, or just press your luck with the hotel price without having to bid. Just remember: Top Secret Hotel reservations are non-changeable, non-refundable and non-transferable. Your credit card will be charged in full at the time of booking. If you’re headed to a new city or destination, I highly recommend you book with a hotel you know, or a brand you’re comfortable with. For those frequent visitors to a repeat destination, it’s worth pressing your luck for a discounted rate.