I’ve long been a fan of ‘masked’ hotel reservation sites like Hotwire and Priceline. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, this is how it works. Prior to making a reservation, you are given some information about the hotel you’re about to reserve, but not all information. Typically, you know the general vacinity of the hotel, and the hotels star rating. In the case of Hotwire, you are also provided with a list of hotel amenities such as pool, on-site restaurant, shuttle service to the airport, and so on. If you like the price, you can make a reservation and then learn the hotel name and specific location.
This isn’t for everyone. If you think you might want to cancel your reservation, don’t bother using these sites as they are non-refundable most of the time. Also, if you want to join your friends or colleagues at a specific hotel, don’t use ‘masked’ hotel booking services. But if you’re somewhat flexible on your location and confident your plans won’t change, then these services are great. I’ve been using these sites for several years and have saved a lot of money in the process.
Travelocity is the latest to offer ‘masked’ hotel reservations with a service they call Top Secret Hotels. Top Secret Hotels has actually been offered on their site for some 3 or 4 months, but I wanted to let them work out the kinks before using it and writing a review.
To find out first hand if Travelocity’s Top Secret Hotels was as good as the competition and could save me up to 45%, I used their service for an upcoming 2-night trip to San Francisco. My approach was simple: I would perform the same hotel search on Priceline, Hotwire and Travelocity (using both regular and Top Secret reservations). My results were quite disappointing:
Selection: First, Top Secret Hotels only has 14 cities to choose from, 10 of which are in the US and 4 from Canada. I was fortunate that San Francisco made the list. When I performed my search, there were only 2 Top Secret Hotels available in all of San Francisco. Hotwire had 25 hotels, Priceline had 158, and Travelocity’s own regular reservation system had 286 hotels available.
Price: The very purpose of using a ‘masked’ reservation system is to save money. Why else would anyone book a hotel that they cannot cancel and not know the hotel name or location? The 2 Top Secret Hotels averaged $240/night. The other sites had equivalent (or better) hotels at 50 percent or less of Travelocity’s Top Secret Prices. So much for saving 45%
Area: Masked hotel reservation systems don’t release the exact hotel location until after you purchase, but they do give you a general area of where the hotel is situated. For example, Hotwire breaks downtown San Francisco into 8 areas and informs you prior to purchase which of these 8 areas your hotel is located. Priceline breaks downtown San Francisco into 7 areas. Travelocity – Just one area that spans from the Golden Gate Bridge to Redwood City. In other words, book a hotel in San Francisco and you could find yourself 25 miles outside of town.
Hotel Information: There was very little information about the 2 Top Secret Hotels available in my test search. Other than the hotel star rating, there were no hotel amenities or other hotel details provided, although one hotel indicated it was non-smoking. Talk about top secret! Compare this to Hotwire, where every hotel amenity is listed. In fact, with Hotwire it’s possible to identify your hotel before you make a reservation by matching up the Hotwire information with HotelDealsRevealed.com’s Hotel Inventory.
Top Secret Hotels by Travelocity obviously needs a lot of work. To give Travelocity credit, they have publically stated that they are going to grow and expand their offering. I truly hope so. They’ve got a long road ahead of them. In the meantime, I’ll keep using the other guys.