This is about travel, something most of us do, with some birders high on the frequency list.
Later this fall I’ll be in California for two pelagic birding trips, one out of Monterey, the other from Half Moon Bay. I’ll need lodging. Monterey was simple; I’ve been there several times. Half Moon Bay will be new to me. I went online to look at motel accommodations. I usually go to the local Chamber of Commerce web site for a list of motels. I found one I liked. It had open rooms. I tried to book on the motel’s web page, but it was not working. This was Saturday night. I decided to call the next day.
Back on that motel web site Sunday morning I found an 800 number. Why not spend their dime instead of mine? The connection was scratchy, the man I was talking to obsequious. He took my information, then told me the motel was booked full. He’d have to find me something else. Strange, I thought, a 14-hour flurry of bookings at my chosen location. But, a nice offer – to find me a room if his motel had none. I’ve actually had motels do that if they are full and another motel in town might have room. The desk clerks made a quick call or two, and usually found me a room.
The man on the phone did find me a place …. 25 miles from the Half Moon Bay dock from which my birding boat would leave at 6 a.m. No thanks, I said. Drive is much too long. He said he would keep looking.
By this time, the suddenly full motel, the bad connection, the strange man on the phone finally raised the question: who the hell am I talking to. I asked.
motel.com, the man said.
Turns out Google was being overly helpful. It placed the phone number for motels.com on the home page of my chosen motel. I was talking to someone somewhere who did not have my motel on his customer list, and so was lying to me about availability. He was trying to put me into a motel that paid a commission for that service. I said I had to rethink this, thank you, goodbye. I called my motel of choice, and got a room without a problem.
I avoid web sites that offer big discounts on rooms, cars, etc. I am by nature skeptical of just about everything, particularly 50 percent off or cars for $12 a day. At the same time, I expect people to be honest. I suppose almost everyone who uses a computer to find rooms for travel could have told me what was happening. Now I know.