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Discount Hotel Broker Blues

An increasingly popular way to try to save money on hotel rooms is to use a discount broker.

In anticipation of the upcoming holiday travel season, CBS Consumer Correspondent Herb Weisbaum examines whether they can really get you a better rate.

Staying at a nice hotel isn't cheap especially in places like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, where a basic room can run $200 or more a night.

Discount brokers promise to save you big bucks as much as 60 percent to 65 percent. But does a hotel broker ensure your getting the lowest rate?

To find out, the folks at Consumer Reports Travel Letter went price shopping this summer. Secret shoppers called five of the country's biggest brokers looking for rooms in seven cities.

After getting a price quote from the broker, they called the hotel directly to see if they could do better. They obtained more than 100 room quotes.

Editor Laurie Berger says about a third of the time, the discount broker charged more than the hotel.

In some cases it was significantly more. Two services, Hotel Reservations Network and Accommodations Express, did the worst in the Consumer Reports survey. Accommodations Express quoted a higher rate than the hotel 70 percent of the time.

For example, for a room at the Windsor in Philadelphia, Hotel Reservations Network quoted a price of $159. The hotel's quote was $89.

For the Hotel Allegro in Chicago, Accommodations Express named a price of $185. The hotel gave the caller a rate of $125.

Source: Consumer Reports Travel Letter

Why would a broker's price be more? "The brokers, themselves, if they're not monitoring the way the hotels are pricing the products, they're going to be in the same place as the consumer, hoping and waiting and wishing for the best rate," says Berger.

Based on its survey, Consumer Reports Travel Letter had the best luck with two discounters, Quickbook and Central Reservation Service. Quickbook was the only broker surveyed to give savings in almost every case.

Both Accommodations Express and Hotel Reservations Network say the Consumer Reports survey was not accurate. Both companies insist that in most cases their rates are lower than ones obtained from calling the hotel directly. Consumer Reports says the results speak for themselves.

The only way to be sure a broker is really saving you money is to price shop. Call the hotel. Maybe check with another broker or travel service. If the price is important, you'll have to do a little work on your own.

In most cases brokers do not charge for the service, but some do have a fee, ranging from $25 to $50, if you want to cancel or change a booked reservation. Quickbook and Central Reservations Service, the two low-price winners, do not.

Brokers can get you a room in many cases when the hotel is sold out. That's because they buy up blocks of rooms in advance. If you're trying to find a room in a city where rooms are scarce, such as New York, Las Vegas, Boston and Chicago, especially when there's a convention in town, your only choice may be to contact a broker.

Even if you've used a broker, you may still want to call the hotel to make sure you have a reservation. To prevent check-in surprises, get a confirmation number from the broker and the hotel.

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