Why You Might Not Want to Use Some Web Applications

Why is it that almost every time I travel, I can get a significantly better price than what’s offered on a hotel, rental car and, in some cases, airline Web site?

Just happened again today as I set hotel, air and car reservations for a San Diego and a San Francisco trip. I calculate that a little bit of social engineering on the phone saved me $400 in cumulative expenditures. Yes….$400!

This was done by bypassing the Web applications and going directly to the reservation agent. In one case I went directly to the hotel. I’ve been doing this for years and it works again and again and again.

So what’s clear to me as a voracious user of Web applications is that with a little bit of effort, I can always get a better price. The purveyors of these Web sites are teaching me (and my bride…who is a master at getting a better price) that a little bit of effort — and a direct human connection to an expensive customer service person — will save me money. (Note: it’s not just travel sites….I do the same thing with ecommerce sites in general and get stuff tossed in to the deal often).

Again….they’re teaching, instructing and rewarding me to cajole, ask, plead, tell sob stories, and call back again to “see if there is a better deal”.  It makes me wonder if all these companies really know that they’re essentially helping me drive down their gross margins by increasing their costs and reducing their top-line revenue.

I suspect this is due to a reluctance on the part of these companies to expose too much in the way of their best deals online so that competitors could easily harvest their site and thus match or better them on price. But in the end, they’re ensuring their customers (and their best ones at that) learn to hammer on them to uncover those good deals. Gotta be a better way.

3 Comments

  1. John Eckman on March 20, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Ok, so maybe my social engineering skills aren’t up to date (your phone kung fu may be stronger than mine) but I consistently find just the opposite to be true – where I can get a significantly better deal online than through direct contact, even when I point out to the person on the phone that there is a better deal through the web.

    Perhaps you could share some of the techniques which helped you save that $400? 😉

    John



  2. Steve Borsch on March 20, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    Can’t give away my trade secrets! 😉

    Seriously though, let’s take my recent hotel experience — which hotel shall remain nameless.

    Chain hotel with their “rack rate” clearly spelled out on the Web site. Price = $289 per night. Calling in they ask, “Will this trip be business or pleasure?” That’s a qualifier question to see if the company for whom you work or you yourself is paying. If it’s the former, they’ll budge little….if it’s the latter they’ll bend more (I’ve been told that the non-supervisory folks can deduct 10% but it depends on how full the hotel is and other variables).

    Since I’m traveling for pleasure (hint, hint), I ask about discounts; AAA rates; what I get since I’m a longstanding member of of their frequent guest club; tell them a story about why I’m going (and I never lie but have been known to stretch the truth to ensure they know I’m a real person and that they’re one too working hard, etc, for their money).

    Soon I’m down 15%…then sometimes 20%. If it’s the former, I’ll sometimes call back and often tell the new person that I can get a better rate as I explain I’m considering another hotel nearby (which I often am…playing one off the other).

    So in these two trips I just booked I saved $50 per night times four nights….$200 on each trip for a total of $400. This rate was NOT on their web site nor would there have been any way of getting it. I figure this effort took 15 minutes. Wish I could make $400 for *every* 15 minutes of work!

    When I travel with my family, I usually let my bride handle things. Quick story: we were dating before we got hitched and I took her to a fancy restaurant. When the bill came, she took out a frequent dining card. I was MORTIFIED! Looking around to see if anyone would think I was some cheapskate, I got over it when the bill was presented and one of the meals was free.

    She does this over and over again. We go to Lenscrafters for new glasses and we’re checking out. She asks the woman, “Do you have a AAA discount?” I give her a sidelong glance with a “WTF?” sort of stare until the woman helping us says, “Oh yes….and you’ve now saved $50”. I’ve learned just to keep my mouth shut and let her do her amazing negotiation.

    If you don’t ask…you won’t receive. Asking an algorithm on a Web site is pretty black-n-white and therefore discount engineering doesn’t work.



  3. Lenny on March 21, 2007 at 9:39 am

    I have found that many travel sites (expedia, travelocity) are actually higher than the hotels themselves. I’ve seen very good deals for hotels through websites that I’ve never heard of before where they want you to prepay. Ummm, no way.

    I do a lot of research before booking a trip – especially airlines. I’ve used kayak.com, which is a great site since you purchase tickets directly from the airline (or orbitz, etc…), but when trying to find the least expensive trip, sometimes it’s better to book two one-way tickets. I’ve found that these web aggregators cannot always put the best combination of different carries together.

    Back to the hotels… I have tried calling the hotels directly, but have had little success. Granted, I do not do this as a matter of practice. I have already booked direct 2 hotels for the summer – one in Santa Monica and the other in San Francisco. It would be interesting to call the hotels and see if I can wheel and deal. Then if I get a lower rate, cancel my initial reservations.



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