Fact or fiction? The best deals for hotel rooms can always be found on those heavily promoted discount travel sites on the Internet.
In a pricing survey of 100 hotels, a Consumer Reports staffer wrangled cheaper rates three out of four times through the hotel brand's Web site or by calling the hotel reservations clerk directly.
Expedia.com had a lower price than the hotel only 40 percent of the time; Orbitz was cheaper than the hotel 30 percent of the time; Hotels.com was lower in 20 percent of the cases; and Travelocity.com beat the hotel's best price 15 percent of the time.
"If you want a rock-bottom rate, you'd better shop around," said the July issue of the magazine published by nonprofit Consumers Union.
Seven months after the big hotel chains started pressuring their properties to offer equal or better deals directly to consumers, the survey shows the hotel chains are serious about protecting their turf.
Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Intercontinental Hotels (Holiday Inn) and Starwood Hotels (Sheraton and Westin) clamped down in fear their rate integrity was being undermined once Barry Diller's InterActiveCorp bought up 60 percent of the independent Web hotel booking business, including Expedia and Hotels.com. Analysts have questioned Diller's ability to maintain his sites' market share given the hotel chains' toughened stance.
A Consumer Reports reporter called hotels in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, New Orleans and Washington to book a three-night getaway three weeks in advance. She did her homework, however, on the Internet by gathering price quotes from each of the major independent travel Web sites and the hotel brand's Web site. Then, like the majority of hotel guests, she called the hotel to see if she could do better.
"Don't take no for an answer," Consumer Reports advised. "Negotiating with the hotel clerk netted our reporter a better deal 44 percent of the time."