Travelocity offers an “unprecedented” new price guarantee — should I switch online agencies?

bills2If you’re confused about the online travel agencies’ service and price guarantees, take a number. So am I.

After this morning’s announcement that Travelocity would make an “unprecedented” addition to its so-called Travelocity Price and Service Guarantee, I’m more befuddled than before. Even reading Dennis Schaal’s insightful analysis of the news, and its provocative kicker (“Orbitz, now it’s your move) leaves me scratching my head.

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Service and price guarantees are seductive lures for online shoppers. But in my experience, they’re either so vaguely-worded that a successful claim is close to impossible, or they come with so much fine print that even an army of lawyers can’t take advantage of them.

Is this more of the same? How does this guarantee differ from those offered by Expedia and Orbitz? And should you consider switching to Travelocity?

Let’s start with the substance of Travelocity’s announcement:

While competing sites offer price protection on hotel bookings only when lower prices are found on their respective sites, or only within the supplier’s cancellation window, Travelocity customers who find the same hotel booking for less elsewhere online (excluding hotels booked using a name-your-own-price service) any time prior to the day of check-in, can notify Travelocity and receive a refund for the difference in price. Additionally, as a special offer to introduce the hotel price match guarantee, between now and Dec. 31, 2009, customers will also receive a $50 discount toward future travel.

Translation: Travelocity’s competitors have more restrictions on their price guarantees (I’ll get to that in a second). But under this new program, unless you booked through Priceline, you can get a refund of the difference between the room rate you paid through Travelocity and a cheaper rate you found elsewhere online, right up until the day of your arrival. Oh, and Travelocity will throw in a $50 discount if you book with it through the end of the year.

Tracey Weber, president of Travelocity North America, gives us the “why” in a prepared statement:

For several years, the Travelocity Guarantee has been a key differentiator for us. For it to remain that way, we realized that it was time to bring our competitive prices more to the forefront. Giving our hotel shoppers the most flexibility and peace of mind when they book through us was the logical place for us to start.

How does that compare to the other online agencies? Here’s Orbitz’ Low Price Guarantee:

With Low Price Guarantee, if you find a lower rate, before taxes and fees, for the same hotel, room type, and check-in and check-out dates on Orbitz or any other Web site within 24 hours following your confirmed reservation on, Orbitz will refund you the difference upon verification you have qualified for a refund. In addition, with Orbitz Price Assurance, ANYTIME after you have booked your hotel, if another Orbitz customer subsequently books the same hotel, meaning the same check-in/check-out dates, room type, room description, number of rooms, number of travelers, at the same hotel and subject to the same restrictions, that is at least $5 lower than the hotel you booked on, Orbitz will refund you the difference up to a maximum of $500.00 per reservation.

Whoa. That’s a mouthful.

And here’s Expedia’s Best Price Guarantee:

In the unlikely event that you find a lower rate on or on another U.S.-based website within 24 hours of booking with, we will credit or refund to you the difference. In addition, we will give you a fifty dollar ($50.00) coupon good on a future booking of an Expedia Special Rate hotel or air plus hotel package on This Best Price Guarantee is subject to the terms and conditions listed below.

That only looks less wordy, but if you examine what’s below you’ll see it’s even worse.

I’m not even going to try to compare and contrast these three policies. Down that road, as my journalism professor used to say, lies madness.

I have asked representatives from Orbitz and Expedia to comment on Travelocity’s move, and will update this post when I hear back from them.

Meantime, should you make Travelocity your homepage and book all of your future trips through the online agency? Well, you can if you want to, but I would still shop around. Remember, it’s better to find a low hotel rate or airfare the first time and not have to go through the hassle of making a claim or dealing with agency funny money.

As a consumer advocate, I get a fair number of angry emails from travelers who tried to take advantage of a low price guarantee but were foiled by the fine print. Trust me, you’re better off not playing the price guarantee game, if you can avoid it.

(Photo: pfala/Flickr Creative Commons)

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