Monday, September 14, 2009

Read the Fine Print

I am sure you all have seen the famous hovercraft by now as it makes it grand entrance onto your television screen. The blue-suited pilot steps out to deliver the good news to some of the vacationers as the story goes. The good news is how “some” of the men or women will be receiving a rebate for part of their vacation costs because they booked with Orbitz online. The story (commercial) goes on to explain how someone booked their same hotel at a cheaper rate so these lucky travelers are getting refunded the difference which is $100 for the purpose of their commercial. But there is always a sad part of the commercial; there is always one poor soul who doesn’t get a refund because they didn’t book with Orbitz and the famous blue-suited man will then expound, “I think we have learned a valuable lesson here” implying you should only book with Orbitz who gives you this “wonderful price guarantee.”

Now here is the reality of this sort of commercial. First, there will be those who make a decision to book with Orbitz solely based on that commercial and with the idea that they will get a rebate if the price drops. Second, there will be those who book with Orbitz based on the commercial because they will also assume that Orbitz’s prices must be the lowest if they are going to give that sort of guarantee. And third, there will be those who never get rebates because they never read the fine print and they will still assume they got “the best deal.”

It is my job, as a travel professional, to help people weed through those sales ploys so travelers know exactly what they are paying and what they are getting for the price. So let me give you the “Terms and Conditions” of the “Low Price Guarantee” so you can see for yourself how hard it will be for anyone to get a refund from Orbitz.

1. Orbitz Price AssuranceSM is available to any customer who makes a qualifying pre-paid hotel booking through the Web site. Qualifying booking must occur on on or after May 1, 2009
2. Orbitz Price Assurance applies only to pre-paid hotel rooms booked on, and only for rooms booked using a valid credit card with a United States or Canadian billing address.
3. Orbitz Price Assurance applies only to the hotel room cost and does not apply to differences based on taxes, booking, or processing fees.
4. If Orbitz finds, after you have booked your hotel, that 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.
5. The confirmed hotel reservation you booked on will be compared to the same reservation subsequently booked on for drops in rates up until the day you stay. Rates are compared with like room descriptions, so for example, if a single room with two double beds is booked on, it will not qualify for Orbitz Price Assurance if compared to a single room with one king bed found on the Web site.
6. Orbitz Price Assurance does not apply to lower room rates that are available on other Web sites, to rooms you cancel or change, or to reservations booked prior to yours.
7. If your qualifying hotel booked on is canceled or changed by you after booking, your claim or any potential refund will not be valid or issued.
8. Orbitz Price Assurance does not apply to hotel rates that are not available to the general public. Rates not available to the general public include, but are not limited to, corporate discount rates, private rates, government rates, military rates, meeting rates, wholesaler rates or consolidator rates.
9. Orbitz Price Assurance is only available on pre-paid hotel rooms, and is not available on hotel rooms booked on where you pay the hotel directly, or reservations of five or more rooms.
10. Pre-paid hotel rooms qualify for both Price Assurance and our Low Price Guarantee.
11. Only hotels displayed with a "Price Assurance" symbol are covered by the Price Assurance Program.
12. Orbitz Price Assurance is for individual rooms booked on and does not apply to package rates, such as rooms booked as part of a travel package.
13. Orbitz Price Assurance does not apply to hotels booked on that have been reduced as a result of promotional code, dollar off coupon, loyalty program discount, or stay free offers. If you make a hotel reservation using a promotional discount code, you will not qualify for Price Assurance; if another traveler makes a hotel reservation using a promotional discount code, you will not qualify for a refund based on that traveler's reduced rate

There are more terms and conditions that are pretty standard after these that explain how they reserve the right to terminate this offer at any time etc., but I think you get the picture. If you read the parts in bold you will see that Orbitz makes it almost impossible to qualify for their “price assurance” program. So if you make a room reservation with them under the assumption you are protected against any lower price being found, think again and read the fine print. Also...if you remember the commercials, they show the man in the blue suit giving back checks in the amount of $100. If you read the terms again, you will see that it is almost impossible for you to have a room rate booked that someone else will come along on the same site and book it $100 cheaper than you did. False or misleading advertising anyone???

I say all of this to say, PLEASE know what you are paying for when it comes to travel. I see this sort of thing a lot and is not applicable only to sites like Orbitz. There are “deals” offered all the time that have caveats and terms that must be met in order to qualify and are often used and lead-in deals meaning they get you to look at their site or company under the assumption you are getting a great deal only then to learn that the deal is not applicable to you. But so many go ahead and book with that person or company because they were “sold” before they ever booked anything. is my job to help you understand what you are paying for and also to help you have the best vacation possible which sometimes does not mean that you got the absolutely lowest price possible. Sometimes the lowest price means staying in a room in a much less desirable part of the hotel where it might be noisy or "miles away" from the pools or restaurants. Sometimes the lowest price means that you will be leaving for your vacation at the crack of dawn or arriving late in the night. Do you want to spend you entire first day of your vacation en route and in airports? A lot of travelers would not consider that an ideal start to their vacation.

Have you always found the "lowest price" also meant you got a "great deal?" Is price the only factor when looking for vacation options? Would you book with someone like Orbitz because of their low price guarantee? I am interested to get your feedback. Have you booked a trip based on a really low price to only later find out that some of the details were not that desirable? Please leave your feedback or comments.

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