Room Key launches first international sites

Room Key, the hotel booking venture backed by six leading hotel brands, announced on Wednesday that it has expanded to include hotel inventory in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Partner hotels will be searchable on the website and four new country-specific sites: (UK), (Canada), (Australia) and (New Zealand).

When launched in January 2012, it included only U.S. hotel listings from its six hotelier founders: Choice Hotels International, InterContinental Hotels Group, Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Marriott International and Wyndham Hotel Group. Within two months, Room Key has developed partnerships with Best Western as well as Preferred Hotel Group and Worldhotels, two hotel companies with a roster of hundreds of independently-owned luxury hotels, resorts and residences.

Room Key’s super simple hotel search remains the same across all five of its portals. Though users can now view search results in the currency of their choice.

Photo courtesy

Major hotel brands band together to launch

What do you get when six of the world’s leading hotel brands come together? You get, a new hotel search engine that launched on Wednesday.

Choice Hotels International, InterContinental Hotels Group, Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Marriott International, and Wyndham Hotel Group form the group of six that created, a simple search tool that allows travelers to search for hotels by date and location, then delivers results that can be sorted by price, distance, hotel name, and star rating. Room Key users can toggle search results to view them on a grid, in a list, or on a map.

At first glance, Room Key’s format appears to be modeled on Google Hotel Finder, the hotel search engine that Google unveiled last summer. Like Hotel Finder, Room Key results link to the hotels’ websites rather than a third-party booking site, thereby ensuring “a personalized and welcoming experience that offers flexibility, accuracy, and benefits of booking with the hotel companies’ proprietary sites,” according to Shafiq Khan, senior vice president of ecommerce, Marriott International. Choice Hotels International’s Senior Vice President of Global Distribution Robert McDowell added, “We at Choice are thrilled to be a part of Room Key alongside these five other global hotel companies. In the face of a staggering number of online booking options, our goal is to make the experience of finding the right hotel as personal and enjoyable as the experience of staying in one.”

Room Key’s beta launch includes only U.S. hotels, but that should change in a future iteration of the site given the vast inventory of properties available under Room Key’s six partners. Also look for the site to expand with more user reviews, comparison tools, and social sharing of travel plans.

Google’s Hotel Finder to help you find the perfect hotel

On Friday, Google introduced Hotel Finder, which promises to help users find the perfect hotel. Hotel Finder utilizes Google Maps as well as a Google Reader-type interface to display hotels according to photo, class, user rating, rate, and “compared to typical,” a useful metric that displays a percentage of how much more or less the rate is off the typical price from the past year.

Google calls Hotel Finder an “experimental” product, a disclaimer that excuses this tool from being perfect. For example, one feature of Hotel Finder is the “shortlist,” which allows users to bookmark hotels they find interesting. Unfortunately, the shortlist only works for the current search and can not be saved for future hotel searches. (I’d love for the shortlist to become more like Foursquare‘s “To Do” list, thereby allowing you to save your shortlist in your Google profile.)

While Google has yet to venture into the business of booking your travel, look for that to change given Google’s acquisition of ITA in July. In the meantime, should you wish to book a hotel via Hotel Finder, click on the blue “Book” button and you are given options to make your reservations via third-party sites like Travelocity and Expedia or on the hotel’s own website. Click on “book” and you’ll see the base price of the hotel as well as the price after taxes and fees for each third-party site.

Although it is a fun tool, Google’s Hotel Finder is not quite ready to be the web’s go-to site for hotel bookings. In fact, Hotel Finder is currently only available for U.S. hotel searches. But I look forward to seeing how Google will integrate Hotel Finder into its current suite of products, particularly as it rolls out ITA-integrated travel product and as Google + grows in popularity and usefulness.

Five chilling facts about Cyber Monday Shopping

Okay, your goal should be NOT to conform to what you see below. The travel industry, riding something of a recovery this year, is set to come out with some solid sales on Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year. So, as you click among hotel, airline and online travel agency sites, it will pay for you to be aware of the biggest risks you face.

Despite the many risks associated with online shopping – and the fact that they have been shoved in the public’s face since the early days of internet commercialization – people still roll the dice with their financial security. When you get excited about cheap tickets or a real bargain on the excursion of a lifetime, take a moment to make sure you aren’t getting scammed. Your savviest purchase may be the one you never make.

So, what are the risks? Let’s take a look at five scary facts from web security firm Webroot:1. Don’t trust page one: a high placement in Google search results shouldn’t be a sign of trust. According to Webroot, 59 percent of survey respondents trust the results they get in the first few pages, up from 39 percent last year. Unfortunately, this placement is “a target for malicious links.” Interestingly, the number of people using search engines is falling: “48 percent of online shoppers frequently if not always use search engines to find gifts online, compared to 52 percent in 2009,” Webroot reports.

Solution: Watch brand. If you recognize the company’s brand, you can be more comfortable with the purchase. Also, watch where the link sends you. For an extra layer of protection, enter the company’s address into the browser yourself instead of clicking the link in Google.

2. Risky wifi behavior: 18 percent of shoppers are likely to use public wifi for holiday shopping, Webroot reports, up from 12 percent in 2009. This can be risky, especially with 23 percent of respondents feeling comfortable using free public wifi.

Solution: Do your online shopping at home or at work. Stealing wifi from your neighbor so you can toss your credit card number onto the web is probably pretty stupid.

3. New site, new password: are you planning to jump on a deal from a company you haven’t used before? Well, this is the point of many of the Cyber Monday travel deals you’ll see: companies want to lure you away from your ol’ stand-by sites. Do take advantage of the hot promotions, but be smart. Using the same password everywhere is like hiding a house key under your doormat.

Solution: Use a new password every time you create an account with a travel website. Also, be one of the 72 percent of online shoppers who uses a “complex” password – i.e., a mix of letters, numbers and symbols.

4. Social should be personal: 26 percent of respondents to the Webroot survey indicated that someone else had used their social media or email accounts to send friends messages in their names. With travel companies increasingly turning to social media platforms to market their deals and bolster their brands, expect a lot more interaction this year … which brings hefty doses of risk with it.

Solution: Take a look at your sent messages from time to time, and look at your Twitter stream from the perspective of another user. Make sure you recognize everything you’re putting out into the world.

5. Look for safety: 52 percent of Webroot’s respondents don’t check to see if a site uses SSL, and 50 percent don’t look for the padlock in the lower right corner of the web browser. This is like not twisting the doorknob after you lock it.

Solution: pay attention to where you make purchases online. In addition to getting comfortable with the company website, you also want to be aware of the security in place. If something feels off, play it safe: don’t buy. No deal is worth the consequences of risky online purchasing behavior.

[Via Insurance Information Institute, photo by InfoMofo via Flickr]

Kayak updates search engine with “Weekend” function

Kayak updated its search engine last week with a new “Weekend” feature that I’ve been tinkering around with for the last couple of days. It’s basically a modification to their canonical search routine that lets you make your search solely over any weekend period instead of nailed down to specific dates.

For example, if you know you want to go to Boston to see a friend some time this summer, you can select the weekend function, choose July, departing Friday, returning Monday and get queries for all weekends in July. The results will automatically give you the lowest price on the market, but if you want to exclude certain weekends you can do this on the left task bar.

In my case, the most useful aspect of this feature is for the “getaway” factor. Once in a while I get the itch to just get out of town next weekend and run a broad search across many cities over many dates. Now I can just run quick searches by changing the destination city and rerunning the query. Now if they had space for ambiguity in the destination and the dates (ie, I want to go anywhere, any weekend in August), that would be keen. I’m wondering if that query is too complicated for Kayak to handle though.