Best hotel bargains are usually online

Q and A

Q&a

July 02, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

I am planning to stay in Nice, Italy, and notice that prices quoted by hotels are much higher than those quoted by online travel sites. Should I risk giving my credit card details online or grit my teeth and pay a higher price directly with the hotel?

When you call a hotel, you will normally be quoted the rack rate, or the published price, whereas a travel agent or travel site should be able to offer you a discounted price. But, as with airfares, you never know whether the price you are offered is the best you can get. So it is worth comparing prices: 20 percent to 30 percent off the published price is a good deal for a four-star hotel.

Don't expect to get discounts at smaller, less expensive hotels in high season. It's always worth asking individual hotels whether they have any special deals or promotions; central reservations agents may not always be aware of these.

You should have no qualms about booking online with a reputable travel site with a secure server to encrypt your credit card details. (But never send card details by e-mail.) I strongly recommend that you print out each stage of online transactions.

Travel sites such as Expedia.com, Travelocity.com and Orbitz.com offer good hotel rates along with airline prices. You might try specific hotel sites such as Cheapnights.com, which deals with hotels, B&Bs, villas and apartments in about 400 cities. Hotelscentral.com has discounts of up to 50 percent in more than 30 countries. Ase.net lists more than 150,000 hotels and lodgings with discounts in 220 countries.

Many large travel agencies offer special hotel rates. But not all agents can offer the best rates at all hotels in each city. So you do need to shop around.

Some readers point out that travel sites tend to offer only standard rooms. However, there are several sites that offer discounts on more upscale rooms.

Luxurylink.com is one of the best sites for finding deals on hotel suites and "superior" rooms around the world. Also, Luxuryexplorer.com has links to more than 100 independent hotels and resorts in Europe, the United States, Africa and Asia, along with jet and yacht charters, train companies and river cruises.

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