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Travel site adds advice on hotel rates

Service aims to predict price trends in Boston and other destinations

In addition to Boston, Farecast.com is launching hotel guides to 29 other destinations, including New York (top left), Los Angeles (top right), Seattle (above left), and Chicago. In addition to Boston, Farecast.com is launching hotel guides to 29 other destinations, including New York (top left), Los Angeles (top right), Seattle (above left), and Chicago. (STEVE MATTEO/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Farecast.com, which last year began offering a service advising would-be travelers whether current airline fares are good deals or likely to fall or rise, is today launching a similar system for hotels in Boston and 29 other US destinations.

Just like the airfare predictor, the new tool advises whether, based on historic pricing data, the currently quoted room rate at over 5,000 hotels is a good or bad deal. For people considering a trip to a given city any of several weekends, it will show when the best deals, relatively speaking, can be had.

How confident consumers can be in Farecast's hotel predictions remains to be seen.

For now, it pools data from just three hotel-booking websites -- Orbitz.com, CheapTickets.com, and ReserveTravel.com -- and quotes no prices from major hotel chains' websites like Marriott, Hilton, or Hyatt.

Farecast.com chief executive Hugh Crean, in an interview, acknowledged that the service is still considered a "beta" site that is continuing to be developed and upgraded.

"We want to gather more robust data and get more hotel suppliers represented, but we think we're putting something out there that's useful to customers," Crean said. "This is a very good, competitive, solid shopping experience."

Crean said he is optimistic more hotel websites will make deals to link up with Farecast.com as the service begins to draw significant numbers of visitors.

Exactly where Farecast gets its data on hotel rates and airfares, and how it analyzes it to recommend whether prices are likely to rise or fall in the future, are the key secrets of the company's business model.

The company uses a small army of computer scientists and mathematicians to analyze pricing patterns and develop algorithms attempting to predict whether prices are headed up or down.

Despite some major gaps -- such as not having fares from leading discount carriers JetBlue Airways Corp. and Southwest Airlines Co. -- Farecast's airline site has attracted a devoted following.

In July, Farecast.com ranked as the fifth-most-visited "meta-search" travel website, with over 500,000 unique users, after Kayak.com, Sidestep.com, CheapFlights.com, and Yahoo's travel site, according to Compete, a Boston online consumer marketing research firm.

Farecast's overall reliability hasn't been independently verified, but this spring, an audit by Navigant Consulting Inc. commissioned by the site found that 74.5 percent of the time between January and March it accurately predicted whether fares on specific routes were likely to rise, fall, or hold steady.

Farecast's hotel service quotes room rates at 80,000 hotels around the world, with the deal comparison and price prediction service limited to 5,000 hotels in major US markets where it has enough data to make the predictions.

In addition to Boston, markets where the site will offer an assessment of whether a quoted rate is a good deal or not include Atlanta; Chicago; Denver; Fort Myers, Fla.; Honolulu; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Maui, Hawaii; New York; Orlando; Philadelphia; San Francisco; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Seattle; Tampa; and Washington, D.C.

Besides the rating on how good a deal current rates are, the Farecast hotel site also blends in information including maps showing hotel locations, photographs, visitor reviews supplied by TravelPost.com, and other information such as whether hotel rates on a given weekend in a given city may be getting driven up by the presence of a major convention.

The website makes money through advertising at the site and collecting the equivalent of a referral fee when site visitors click through Farecast.com to book a reservation at a hotel, Crean said.

Peter J. Howe can be reached at howe@globe.com.

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