Thursday, June 14, 2012

Who uses Expedia, and why?

MarketWatch has a story today with a bullish take on Expedia, as well as other online travel sites -- Priceline and TripAdvisor. (Oddly, it doesn't mention Expedia's main competitor, Travelocity, or the dozens of similar sites.)

It's a superficial analysis, comparing the profit potential of automated travel booking to that of owning casino stock.  I see no analogy that makes sense. Anybody who acquires Expedia shares on the basis of this piece might do better at the roulette table.

A more relevant alternative question is: who buys airline tickets and hotel rooms through Expedia (or Travelocity)? A lot of people, apparently, but it's hard to reckon why.


I'm a thorough vacation planner, and do check out the prices on Expedia and similar, but it's been years since I've found any deals there that beat what you can get directly from the supplier. Recently, putting together a modest upcoming vacation -- a long weekend, really -- I looked at hotel prices in our destination city. TripAdvisor will open up windows for all the so-called discounters (unless you uncheck boxes to opt out); in every case, a hotel room cost the same, to the penny, on the "cheap" sites as on the site of the hotel itself.

I'd walk a camel for a mile.

Ten or 15 years ago, when online booking was relatively new and most people got rooms and flights through a travel agent, Expedia and other discount brokers could offer the suppliers a mostly upscale clientele who knew how to work the 'Net. So the Expedia rake-off might have been worth it to hotel chains and airlines. Nowadays, with everybody's dog buying everything online, why would anybody lower their rates for Expedia?

Priceline, of course, is a different kind of critter ... if you bid for your hotel. (Priceline, too, offers fixed-price hotel rooms that cost the same as on every other site.)


I've gotten some good deals through Priceline, but you have to be very careful in trying to "name your own price." Go to the site Bidding for Travel and check out what hotels have been offered in each "star" category on Priceline. Above all -- know the areas that Priceline divides the city into. If you aren't familiar with the city at all, I wouldn't take a chance on a blind bid at Priceline.

TripAdvisor actually is a value-added app. Not because you can get anything cheaper on it, but because reading the customer reviews of hotels people have stayed at is a good way to get a multi-angulated view of the properties. I've even written a few reviews for TripAdvisor myself -- my handle is Trippist Monk.


It's best to read the reviews in small doses. Too many at a time can send you crazy. And individual reviews can cancel each other out -- one says the place treated him like a Maharajah, you could eat off the floors they were so clean, and they changed the views from the windows along with the sheets every day. Another says the staff was rude, crooked, couldn't be bothered; the plumbing was naff; the room looked out on an alley frequented by dope dealers.

You pays your money and you takes your choice.


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