When searching for the best hotel bargains, your best bet is: a) surfing Web discounters; b) bidding on a "hidden-provider" site; c) contacting a travel agent; d) calling the hotel directly; e) checking individual hotel websites.
The answer is: all of the above.
"If you want the lowest rate, you've really got to be willing to try every option out there," said Bob Jones, a self-described "frugalist" with OneTravel.com, an online booking agency.
Competition among discount hotel sites has grown in the past year as consumers have become more sophisticated and more brokers have entered the market. Also, new "aggregator" sites such as SideStep.com, BookingBuddy.com, and Travelaxe.com have streamlined the search by combing through many sites to find the best deal.
We used SideStep to look for a room at the Colonnade hotel in Boston for a Saturday this month. SideStep offered us a double for $303, Hotels.com's price was $265, Expedia's was $245, and a phone call to the hotel resulted in a quote of $245. Unlike other brokers, SideStep promises to match room prices found on other sites.
Recently, the big online brokers have introduced concierge features. Travelers can book Broadway tickets on Expedia and theme park tickets and other excursions on Travelocity.