Should I pay my hotel bill?

Q: I booked a hotel in San Francisco through Expedia. I was quoted and paid a rate of $179 per night for the first two nights, $146 for the third night, and got the fourth night free. Including tax and service fees, I paid Expedia $584.51. I thought that was a pretty good deal, but when I checked out, the hotel provided a statement which showed a rate of $134 for the first two nights, $109 for the third night and the fourth night free. Which bill should I pay?

— Ray Crockett

A: The hotel inadvertently showed you its “net” rate – the price per room Expedia pays it. The extra $155 you are charged represents Expedia’s profit. Expedia spokesman Mitch Robinson regrets that you saw the price, since that’s typically the kind of information that a hotel and travel agency keep between themselves. “But Mr. Crockett still got a great deal – better than he probably could have received anywhere else,” he added.

Like other travel agencies that offer discounted hotel rooms, Expedia buys large blocks of rooms at a net price, and it often pays for them up front. If you’d care to do the same thing, I’m sure the hotel would have offered you a similar deal.

Ultimately, it isn’t Expedia’s fault for clueing you in on its behind-the-scenes price, but the hotel’s. It shouldn’t have given you an invoice with the net rate. Expedia ought to contact the property to make sure it shows you, or any other guest, the correct bill.

You should pay the first bill, obviously. I know that’s not what you want to hear, because there’s nothing as frustrating as finding out someone paid less for your hotel room. However, there are a few things you can do to make sure you really do get the lowest price next time.

Check around with other Web sites that sell hotel rooms – Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotels.com – and make sure the rate you’re getting is as low as possible. Call a travel agent. Often, an honest-to-goodness travel counselor can get the price down even further.

Finally, call the hotel directly to see if they can’t sweeten the offer. Remember, when you book directly through the hotel, it cuts out the middleman or the computer reservations system, which lessens the hotel’s cost.

Robinson is right – you got a good deal. Could you have done better? Maybe. Is Expedia to blame for trying to turn a profit? Absolutely not.

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