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Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen looks at two new websites that can help you save on paid hotel stays.
Technology has been a wonderful friend to the travel industry. Companies like Uber and Hotel Tonight enable travelers to connect with travel providers directly to utilize their services, a classic example of linking supply and demand. You may not be familiar with all of these types of sites, so today, as a follow-up to my best rate guarantee post from earlier in the month, I’ll highlight two such websites that can potentially save you money on hotel rooms: Tingo and DreamCheaper. Should these providers be your go-to websites for booking hotels?
Though they work slightly differently, both sites follow essentially the same concept as AutoSlash, which TPG profiled back in 2011. You book your desired hotel room for your specified dates. Then, Tingo and DreamCheaper will continuously search for better rates leading up to the day of your arrival, alerting you when the price drops.
I decided to give these sites a test run, booking weekend stays at some big city hotels for next month:
- Andaz Wall Street, New York — April 3-5
- The Palmer House, Chicago — April 10-12
- The Venetian, Las Vegas — April 10-12
- JW Marriott, Los Angeles — April 17-19
- W London Leicester Square — April 24-26
Let’s take a closer look at each site and see what I found!
The first site I tried is Tingo.com, which is actually part of Smarter Travel Media, the parent company of TripAdvisor. If you book a hotel room on its site, Tingo promises to continuously search for lower prices leading up to your arrival date. If the rate drops, the site will automatically rebook you and refund the difference to your credit card.
Unfortunately, this does mean that you have to prepay each reservation at the time of booking, but the reservation is fully refundable. The big benefit of the site is that it should prevent you from having to constantly check a specific hotel’s website to find a better price.
Here’s how Tingo works:
- Visit the Create an Account page
- Search for your city/hotel on your desired dates
- Book the room you want
- Wait and see if the price drops!
Step three is probably the most important, since the site will display a number of different rate types. In order to be eligible for automatic refunds, you must book rooms that have “Best Price Guarantee” and “Price Drop Refunds” listed next to them, like this one at the Handlery Union Square Hotel in San Francisco:
While both rooms are on sale (30% off), only the 1 Queen Bed room would be eligible for automatic refunds if the price drops before your arrival.
During my exploration of the site, I found that the prices displayed typically matched the flexible (refundable) rates given by the specific hotel’s site. For example, here are the rooms available at the JW Marriott in Los Angeles on Tingo:
Here are the same rooms on Marriott.com:
In many cases, Tingo even showed the non-refundable rates offered on individual sites. You wouldn’t be able to cancel those reservations for free, and they were also not subject to the automatic price refunds offered by the flexible rates.
One really nice feature of the site, however, is the pop-up box for each hotel that shows up when you get to the rates page. This tells you the number and magnitude of rate drops during the previous 14 days. Here’s what that looks like for EPIC, a Kimpton Hotel in Miami:
We don’t know whether these rate drops actually happened, but if you take that claim at face value, at least it gives you an sense of what to expect.
I also like the immediate link to ratings and reviews on TripAdvisor. I often use that site when researching a property (keeping in mind that not all reviews are authentic), so it’s nice to have that information right on the booking page.
A few other notes:
- Purchases from Tingo are classified as “Travel” on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Ink Plus Business Card, allowing you to earn 2x Ultimate Rewards points on these purchases.
- Purchases from Tingo are also classified as “Travel” on the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, allowing you to redeem Arrival Miles to cover the expense (and get 10% of those miles back).
- Purchases from Tingo are not classified as individual hotel purchases on co-branded credit cards. I booked the Andaz Wall Street on my Hyatt Credit Card and the Palmer House on my Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, and in both cases, the expense was classified as an everyday purchase.
- Tingo automatically converts the hotel rates from foreign currencies to US dollars. As a result, my Tingo booking for the W London in Leicester Square was prepaid in dollars rather than pounds. While everyone should have a card with no foreign transaction fees, this can be a easy way to avoid those fees or lock in a lower rate if you expect the dollar to devalue between the time you book and your arrival.
- You will not earn points on these bookings, just like you wouldn’t when booking through other online travel agencies. However, you may still be able to enjoy elite status benefits like free breakfast, upgrades, and other on-property benefits. You would just need to call the hotel and ask to have your loyalty program account number manually added to the reservation.
This Germany-based site works a bit differently. Rather than allowing you to book hotels directly, you make the reservation on your own. You then forward your reservation confirmation e-mail to DreamCheaper, and the site will continuously check prices and automatically rebook you if the price drops.
Here’s how it works:
- Book your room directly with the hotel or with any third-party site
- Forward the confirmation e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Wait and see if the price drops!
When you forward your first reservation, the site will recognize the new e-mail address and automatically create an account for you; this took just under 6 hours for my first booking. Any additional reservations you forward from that address will then be added to your account for you to track.
When the account is created, you’ll need to log in and select a password and the usual information, like first and last name, date of birth, and gender. However, you’ll also need to choose a commission percentage:
The default is 20%, but you can choose any amount (including 0%). This is a very interesting business model and quite different from most third-party OTAs. When you book a hotel room with Expedia, Orbitz, or another website, it charges the hotel (or corporate parent company) a fee. In this case, DreamCheaper doesn’t collect that fee, since the site doesn’t actually book the reservation. In order to make money, the site asks you to contribute a percentage of your savings (if any).
As of the time of writing, I have yet to receive any kind of notification of a price drop, though in checking the individual hotel sites, that’s not surprising, as rates have remained unchanged in the week since I booked. I will also say that I’ve found DreamCheaper’s site to be a bit buggy. For starters, it takes up to 24 hours for a new reservation to appear in my account, and even when it does, it’s not always displayed properly:
The rate is also converted to Euros, even though the original reservations were made in US dollars, so that adds another variable to the mix.
I’ve also found that Tingo.com generally provides the same prices and rate options as the actual hotel site. The biggest difference is that a hotel’s site may not charge you at booking; Tingo will.
When should you use these sites?
Each of these sites has different uses, depending on the type of property you’re booking. For Tingo, I would stay away from chain hotels or any hotels affiliated with a loyalty program. Sure, it’s nice to get some money back if the rate drops, but giving up the ability to earn points (and possibly missing out on elite benefits) is too big of a pill to swallow. Tingo also forces you to prepay for the room.
Instead, consider using Tingo for boutique, non-chain hotels. Even though you need to pay up-front, most of the rates are fully refundable (up until the individual property’s cancellation deadline), and if the price drops, the refund comes right back to your card. Just be sure to use a card that offers a category bonus on travel expenses; the Citi ThankYou Premier Card, which recently upped its travel bonus to 3x points per dollar spent, is a great candidate.
On the other hand, DreamCheaper can be useful when booking your reservation with a chain hotel affiliated with a program like Hilton HHonors or Starwood Preferred Guest. Because you make the reservation directly, you’re eligible to earn points and stay/night credit toward elite status, and if the rate drops, DreamCheaper will let you know! That can keep you from having to check and recheck revenue rates for your stay, and you can also use your co-branded hotel credit card to get bonus points on the purchase.
The only decision you’d need to make is the commission percentage. Sure, 0% is a choice, but how much is your time worth? If you would typically spend an hour every month checking to see if the rate drops, how much would you pay to get that time back?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: more choices are better than fewer choices, and these two sites represent a new way of looking at best rate guarantees by offering automatic refunds when a price drops. While my initial searches didn’t result in any rate reductions, I’ll be interested to try these services again in the future.
Have you tried Tingo or DreamCheaper?