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Liz Meyer • New York Times ,

Taking some mystery out of blind booking

  • Article by: SUSAN STELLIN
  • New York Times
  • March 29, 2013 - 5:23 PM

 

For travelers willing to trade certainty for savings, Priceline, Hotwire and a new site called GetGoing are taking some of the mystery out of the opaque booking process.

GetGoing.com offers a twist on the blind-booking model popularized by Priceline, where you don’t find out all the details of your itinerary until after you book. Instead of bidding, you choose two places you would like to visit (say, Miami and Los Angeles), select your travel dates and flights, then enter your credit card details. GetGoing randomly chooses one of the trips and books your ticket, which you can’t change or cancel. Meanwhile, Priceline and Hotwire have added features to make opaque booking less of a gamble. Here’s how the sites compare:

 

GETGOING.com

What’s new: The coin-flip booking model. So far, GetGoing works with more than 10 airlines, offering flights to thousands of destinations in more than 50 countries. You can select two destinations in the same or different countries (or states), as long as they are at least 50 miles apart. Unlike Priceline, GetGoing lets you limit the options to nonstop flights, but you will generally save more if you accept a connection. Savings range from 20 to 40 percent off the lowest published fare, said GetGoing CEO Alek Vernitsky; you see the full price before you commit. Although you don’t find out the name of the airline until after you book, GetGoing displays your departure and arrival times as a half-hour window — e.g. “takeoff 5 to 5:30 p.m.” With Priceline’s name-your-own-price option, all you know before booking is that your flight will depart between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. and might include a connection — too much uncertainty for some travelers.

Cool tools: To prove you’re getting a deal, GetGoing posts links to other booking sites like Kayak next to its prices, so you can check what the competition is charging. If you don’t have a destination in mind, you can search for places that fit a particular category, like “beaches and sun” or “adventure and outdoors.” If you log in with your Facebook account, GetGoing will tell you which of your friends have been to the destination you’re considering, making it easy to seek advice.

Wish list: GetGoing doesn’t offer hotel deals but plans to add them in the next couple of months. It also hopes to persuade more airlines to participate, which would expand offerings. A flexible date search would help in the search to find the cheapest weekend to travel.

 

PRICELINE.com

What’s new: To entice customers who were put off by its name-your-own-price bidding model, Priceline created a hotel booking option called Express Deals last summer. You still don’t find out the hotel’s name until after you book, but Priceline displays the room rate so you don’t have to bid. With Express Deals, you will see a list of amenities the hotel offers (pool, fitness center, free Internet access), and some hotels let you select a bed type. Brian Ek, Priceline’s spokesman, said Express Deals have discounts up to 40 percent off the hotel’s published rates, vs. up to 60 percent off with the bidding option. On the airline front, Priceline now sells one-way tickets and displays recent winning bids on a particular route to help guide bidding strategy.

Cool tools: Priceline’s mobile apps have benefited travelers who book late. “The amount of inventory and the discounts we offer will get a little bit better toward the last minute,” Ek said. Priceline’s iPad app is scheduled for a new release this summer but currently offers a map view that lets you tap on a zone in a city to see recent winning bids for that area. For car rentals, Ek said the savings also tend to be better, up to 40 percent off, for last-minute bookings.

Wish list: The option to choose only nonstop flights when you’re bidding, and the ability to select a narrower departure or arrival window. “I don’t even give bidding strategies for airline tickets anymore,” said Sheryl Mexic of the advice site BiddingForTravel.com. “Your schedule is totally out of your control.”

 

HOTWIRE.com

What’s new: With Hotwire’s Hot Rate hotels, you see the price and amenities offered by a particular property (including whether there is a pool, fitness center, free Internet or parking), but you don’t know the name until after you book. Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group, said the company recently began indicating whether Hot Rate hotels in Las Vegas have a casino; for some cities, Hotwire notes whether a hotel is pet-friendly. The site’s maps are also getting more detailed, Bason said, to help travelers choose the right zone. For instance, a bubble over the Magnificent Mile in Chicago describes that zone as a “shopping thoroughfare with blues clubs, art galleries and design studios.”

Cool tools: Like Priceline, Hotwire has been working on its mobile apps, offering better deals to last-minute bookers — up to 40 percent off the hotel’s lowest published rates, vs. 20 percent if you book more than two weeks in advance. “As you get closer and closer to midnight on the day of check-in, the hotelier increasingly has incentive to cut that price,” Bason said. “In some big cities, we see prices changing from 9 a.m. to noon to 3 p.m.”

Wish list: A narrower travel window for Hotwire’s Hot Rate airfares, which are for flights that depart sometime from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on a “major airline” and might include one stop. You can’t limit the options to nonstop flights or exclude certain carriers.

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