Find hotel deals with new booking site Guestmob

hotel deals guestmob collectionsThe Internet has brought us many ways to research and book hotels at prices much lower than the hotels’ published rate. Aggregate sites like Kayak and Orbitz give you the best available rate (BAR) without pre-payment on a specific hotel, while “opaque” sites like Priceline and Hotwire allow you to bid for a room below BAR but the actual property remains hidden until after you book and the purchase is non-refundable. Now a new booking site offers you hotel deals well below BAR while ensuring consumers flexibility and a standard of quality.

Guestmob differs from other hotel booking sites by combining high-tech algorithmic pricing and expertly curated properties hand-picked for their high user ratings. The site works by grouping hotels into collections of four to eight properties in a given category and neighborhood. You enter your travel dates and can immediately see a room rate of up to 50% below BAR for each hotel collection. The Thursday before you check in, the exact hotel is revealed but you are guaranteed one of the specific hotels in the collection. Best of all, unlike other opaque booking sites, you can cancel your reservation up to three days before check-in.hotel deals guestmob booking pagePreviously, some savvy travelers have tried to “game the system” with sites like Bidding for Travel, a forum that tries to guess winning bids and participating hotels on opaque sites by sharing successful bookings. Guestmob removes the need for this research by specifying hotels in each collection and immediately offering a deeply discounted price. While room upgrades, frequent guest points and other requests are still at the discretion of the hotel upon check-in, it’s still a great option for travelers with flexibility.

A Guestmob search for a hotel in Chicago on a weekend in mid-May yielded a price of $164 for a 3.5 star hotel on Magnificent Mile (such as a Courtyard or Embassy Suites), or $203 to bump up to a 4 star in the same area such as a W or Westin Hotel. The same properties ranged from $221 to $279 on other sites. Most Guestmob hotels are part of well-known chains such as Marriott or Starwood, or smaller chains like Kimpton and JDV.

Guestmob soft-launched last year in San Francisco and has now expanded to include New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, San Diego, San Jose, Seattle, Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Portland and Phoenix. The site is well connected to social media so you can get help, learn news or give feedback on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can also chat with them right on the site if you have questions.

Luxury vacations now within reach through new travel service

luxury vacationsFor many travelers, a luxury vacation is a thing for which to save, splurge on for a special occasion, or hope to do some day. Adventure travelers often do not even have luxury vacations on their radar and are more apt to grab the backpack than to hit the road. But luxury vacations do not have to be for just the rich and famous. An online source for discounts on luxury is bringing that world within reach.

Luxury Link is an online destination for deals on luxury vacations at desirable destinations like Fiji, Hawaii or Tahiti as well as the cultural capitals of Europe or cities in Asia.

Luxury Link packages vacations then offers two ways to buy, sort of like eBay or Priceline, via auctions or offers to “Book Now.”

One significant difference when comparing Luxury Link to eBay, Priceline, or other similar options, is in the offerings. Luxury Link partners with upscale hotels, resorts, villas and cruise lines, to offer deals, many of which we don’t find anywhere other than on their own websites.

Luxury link boasts savings of up to 65%, “often including complimentary extras, amenities and activities for the best value available anywhere,” says the Luxury Link website. That’s just sales talk to catch our attention. All online travel sellers do it. Most buyers who frequent sites to research travel probably do not pay a lot of attention to those claims, nor should they.

But also differentiating Luxury Link is the notion that top-shelf hotels, resorts, cruise lines and others want to entice luxury travelers to their product, but often have a hard time making contact with them. Partnering with Luxury Link to create unique vacation products, they are offering something not available elsewhere.

That can be good and bad.The good part is that the move suggests the operators of those vacation options are looking to establish a long-term business relationship with luxury travelers. In other words, they are not in it to fill up some hotel rooms at the last minute where any warm body will do. We don’t see that a lot with online sellers of travel.

The potentially bad part is that those uniquely created vacation packages are difficult to compare with other deals causing buyers to not have a sense about the value being offered. They simply do not exist from any other source.

Still, Luxury Link does have some outstanding values, including a clean report from the Better Business Bureau, and might very well enable luxury travel dreams.

Top Luxury Destinations for Summer Vacations


Flickr photo by Andy_Mitchell_UK

How to game Priceline to get the best deal on a hotel room

If you like to stay in nice hotels but hate paying full price for them, you’ve probably tried to bid for a room on Priceline at some point. But are you sure you got the lowest possible price? I’ve been using Priceline to bid on hotel rooms for years and I think I have the experience down to a science. Here’s how I use the site.

Map out a bidding strategy using free re-bids

If you’re familiar with Priceline, you know that if you’re opening bid is rejected, you need to alter either the star level, dates of travel, or geographic zones in order to bid again. Otherwise you have to wait a full 24 hours before submitting the same request, even if you’re willing to increase your bid.

A good way to circumvent this rule when bidding on hotel rooms in large cities is to determine what level of accommodation Priceline offers within each geographic zone. All you have to do is click each zone, one-by-one and see what star levels below gray out. For example, Atlanta has 21 zones. If you click into each, you’ll discover that only 6 of those zones have 4 star hotels; 3 other zones have nothing better than 3.5 star hotels; 7 zones max out at 3 stars; 3 offer only 2.5 or 2 star hotels, and 2 allow bids only on 2 star hotels.

So if you want to bid on a four star hotel in Buckhead, you actually have 15 free re-bids in the zones with no 4 star offerings, at no risk. If you’re willing to pay up to $90, for example, start out with a $45 low-ball offer, and then move up in $3 increments each time your bid is rejected, adding a “safe” zone each time.

Bid 1: 4 star, Buckhead- $45
Bid 2: 4 star, Buckhead, Druid Hills, $48
Bid 3: 4 star, Buckhead, Druid Hills, Forest Park, $51

And so on. If you strike out getting the 4 star hotel and are willing to move down to 3.5 stars, you start all over again, and, based on this example have 12 free re-bids on “safe” zones that have no 4 star or 3.5 star hotels. This can be time consuming, but I’ve gotten some incredible deals using this method, which has been explained on other sites as well, including the Westin Atlanta North at Perimeter Center for $55, the Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing for $45, and the Marriott Toronto Airport for $48, to name just a few.Do your homework

If you’re the kind of person who hates Priceline’s element of surprise- you never know exactly what hotel you’ll get until after you enter your credit card information- do some research on sites like Bidding for Travel and Better Bidding to find out what you might get. Bidders post successful and unsuccessful bids in the forums and the sites also features lists of reported hotels in the different zones in many cities around the world. Don’t assume that these lists are comprehensive- I’ve gotten hotels that aren’t on these lists, but they are useful to give you an idea of what you might get. A new site, Bidding Traveler, allows you to enter a low-ball bid and a final offer and then advises you on an optimal bidding strategy based upon recent accepted and rejected bids on Priceline.

Still nervous?

One other tool travelers might want to be aware of involves a glitch on the Priceline site I read about in a forum on fatwallet.com, regarding credit card security codes. Priceline requires bidders to enter their credit card information before they bid, but the glitch is that the system reportedly allows unsuccessful bids to go through with an incorrect security code. Only if your bid is accepted will it prompt you to correct your security code.

Practically, this glitch provides some good intel. For example, let’s say your $50 bid was rejected, but you try again at $70, with an additional zone or reduced stars, and the system prompts you to correct your security code. That means they want to accept your $70 bid. But perhaps you have some free re-bids and would rather try again at $60, knowing you can always come back to $70 and get your room.

After your bid is accepted

Some hotels practice a sort of informal discrimination against travelers who book via third party sites like Priceline, by giving them the least desirable rooms. In order to try to avoid this, call the hotel as soon as your bid is accepted. Express your room preference and give them your frequent guest number. Some chains won’t give you points on a Priceline stay, but some will, if not always for the room, then at least for other incidental charges you might accrue while staying at the property.

If you have any kind of status at that chain, they are a lot less likely to shaft you just because you booked on Priceline, and even if you haven’t signed up for that hotel’s frequent stay program before, it’s usually worth your time to do so before arrival, since those with no status tend to get last choice of rooms.

Using Priceline for rental cars and flights

I’ve also had some success using Priceline for rental cars, sometimes scoring rides for as little as $12 per day before taxes and fees. There is no free re-bid system but you can start at the luxury or premium level and work your way down to economy or compact. I’ve found that in practice, most rental companies will allow you to upgrade if you bid on a small car and decide you want something different, assuming they have the category of vehicle you want.

I’ve been less successful using Priceline to book flights. I’ve only tried it twice and both times I wasn’t happy with the itinerary I got. I used it to book a flight from Chicago to London and ended up with a long layover in Cincinnati. The second and last straw for me was a Chicago- New York flight that departed at 6 A.M. and had a long layover. For international flights, you can depart at any time midnight-midnight on your proposed date and for domestic, you’ll travel between 6 A.M. and 10 P.M. I’m a big fan of non-stop flights that leave well after the start of the Today show, so Priceline does’t really work for me on flights.

Priceline not for you?

If Priceline still seems a bit too risky for you, you might consider trying a new site called BackBid. The site allows travelers to post their existing reservation and then invites other hotels to try to beat it. I’m not very risk averse and I love Priceline, so I haven’t tried it yet. If you have, let us know how you made out in the comments section, and happy bidding.

Image via Flickr, Loren Javier.

Priceline launches hotels for tonight app

pricelineIn a potential attempt to compete with apps like Hotel Tonight, Priceline has launched a new Tonight-Only Deals hotel reservations service that is being bundled into its free Hotel & Rental Car Negotiator app for the iPhone and iPod Touch. The new service enables last-minute travelers to choose the exact hotels they want for stays the same night and still enjoy Priceline’s discounts.

“Usage trends show that approximately 70% of priceline.com’s mobile customers are booking hotels for same-day check-in, so there’s a clear market need for the Tonight-Only Deals service,” said John Caine, priceline.com’s senior vice president of marketing.

Tonight-Only Deals will be posted on the service at 11:00 a.m. local time and can be instantly booked up until 11:00 p.m. local time, or until they sell out.

The new service will show the names of all the available Tonight-Only Deals hotels with descriptions, maps and photos, along with the rates and the percentage discounts. Tonight-Only Deals also will display each hotel’s customer satisfaction score and reviews generated by priceline.com guests who have stayed there.

Cities where Tonight-Only Deals can be found include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Ft. Lauderdale, Honolulu, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Phoenix, Portland, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Fe and Washington, DC.

The concept seems easy. When a traveler searches the app’s published-price hotel listings for a same-night stay, the app will also look for Tonight-Only Deals and alert the traveler if specially discounted deals are available. The traveler will then see a list of up to three available hotel room reservations per city and will see which hotels have reservations available. Travelers can choose to see the Tonight-Only Deals or continue with their regular search.

The app is easy to use – we tested it for our home market (Washington, DC) and easily found three deals for hotels we’d definitely consider at an average discount of about 20%, usually somewhere between $20 and $50.

In contrast, Hotel Tonight, a similar app, showed significantly more area results (two in Arlington, three in DC, and three resorts within a few hour drive). The discounts here appeared to be greater, but the geographic concentration may have been less desirable, depending on what you were looking for.

At the moment, it just means that we’ll be checking both apps when we make sure we find the best possible hotel and the best deal.

Online travel company lawsuits heat up, cool off

Online travel company lawsuits

Going back more than 10 years, U.S. city and state governments have been suing online travel sites for underpaying general excise and hotel taxes. Now, lawsuits filed years ago are being heard and the story continues as mixed verdicts come in.

First, here’s the beef. Online travel companies purchase unused hotel room inventory and then sell those rooms to consumers at a marked-up price. The online travel company pays the hotel occupancy tax on the discounted rate that it purchased from hotels and not on the rate charged to its consumers.

Cities from Honolulu to Houston to Washington D.C say “that’s not right” and want the taxes actually charged to be paid.

Online travel companies like Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotwire.com, Hotels.com, Priceline and others say “forget it, we’re not paying.”

Some lose, some win as the issue plays itself out.

In January, Houston, Texas lost it’s battle when a a Texas trial court judge dismissed the allegations. “These claims are not based on law, but on the greed of plaintiffs’ attorneys,” Andrew Weinstein, spokesperson for the Interactive Travel Services Association told the Southeast Texas Record.

It’s a sketchy claim at best and both sides have their share of supporters and valid points.

“If the city’s right, all that means is there’s been an under-collection of taxes, and the city can’t sue us for that,” said Frank Lowrey, an attorney representing the firms to Business Week. “They’re telling us to collect more taxes than we said we would collect.”

Similar lawsuits or complaints have been filed around the country by cities and states including in Oklahoma, Maryland, Texas, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and in the California cities of San Diego and San Francisco. While some of the complaints have been dismissed, several are still pending.

Is this just cities and states grasping at any possible income source, however bizzare it may sound? Maybe, but that’s nothing new either. Just last year Gadling reported on how the state of Tennessee wanted to tax complementary hotel breakfasts and before that we reported how taxes are becoming a larger part of travel expenses all the time as cities and states are pumping up their coffers at the expense of visitors.

Those who lay claim to jobs as lawmakers may not have the oldest profession in the world but sometimes they sure act like it.

Flickr photo by Love My Tours

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