Does booking through Hotwire or Priceline affect the quality of your accomodations?

The Good: Palmer House Chicago Loop

Over time I have been an avid user of Hotwire and on occasion Priceline Name Your Own Price. Obviously, I chose them to save money against their fellow online travel booking engines the likes of Orbitz and Travelocity or booking with the hotel chain directly (e.g. Hilton, Marriott, etc). As you know if you have ever used either Hotwire or Priceline, the name of the hotel you book is not revealed until the sale is final. If you are unhappy with the selection,  no changes can be made to such bookings short of a decree from God (just kidding, well kind of). In my case, not knowing the hotel ahead of time has worked out well at times (Chicago), but at other times (Ft. Lauderdale) as they say in German nicht so gut. Using Hotwire or Priceline can be a rather hit or miss endeavor, even when one uses the additional features provided by the sites such as star ratings, customer satisfaction percentage, and customer reviews.

The Bad: Ocean Sky Resort Ft. Lauderdale

But I digress to the main point of my post. Does one compromise their chances of a quality room when booking with Hotwire or Priceline Name Your Own Price? Through a synthesis of personal and other people’s experience (both acquaintances and 3rd parties unknown to me via travel forums such as fodors and tripadvisor) the reviews are mixed. More times than not it appears to be a matter of capacity. If the hotel is rather full, one should expect to receive lesser accomodations than his/her fellow guest who has paid more via an online hotel booking site such as Expedia or the hotel directly. Another factor could be the duration of your stay as one night surely will not carry as much bargaining weight as say a 3 or 4 night stay. Ultimately it becomes a matter of cost benefit analysis. Does having a small room dramatically decrease your enjoyment of the hotel or is sacrificing square footage worth it in terms of the hotel’s value regarding price, amenities, and location as was the case for me in Chicago?

The Ugly: Ocean Sky Resort Ft. Lauderdale

There are a couple of things you can do to prepare yourself for a Hotwire booking stay. Of course use their features of map, star rating, customer satisfaction rating, and customer reviews to make the best possible choice prior to booking. After booking and the name of the hotel is revealed, look for them on twitter, begin following them, and send them a message informing them of your upcoming stay. When checking in ask them what the capacity level of the hotel is so that if the room you are assigned is substandard and the capacity is less than full, you have a bargaining chip. Finally, tweet both positive and negative impressions of the room directly to the hotel using a hashtag before its name so it is public in the twitterverse. These are some of the steps I have taken to improve the quality of my stays via Hotwire and Priceline Name Your Own Price bookings. I would love to hear from you about other effective means to ensure the best accommodations when booking with the aforementioned companies.

Happy Hotel Hunting!

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Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa


The Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa is a solid 4-star option for your mountain retreat. The location is ideal as it sits at the base of the mountain and hugs Beaver Creek Village. Many of the rooms face slope-side with small balconies attached  for your viewing and fresh air breathing pleasure. Speaking of the views, when I stepped on the balcony, I was immediately impressed with the water recreation amenities. Below our room lay the pool area complete with a medium sized pool, five jacuzzis, and a multitude of recliners to lounge comfortably. Now, any one who has spent time in the mountains in the Summer knows that the air temperature is much cooler than its valley counterpart. To adjust for this discrepancy, the pool remains heated while it is open. I happened to test out how heated the pool in fact was, being a day in the mid-60’s, and became pleasantly surprised by the luke-warm water. The pool  even featured a partitioned lane for lap swimming, in which I happily indulged.

Our room displayed a delightful decor of dark stained wooden doors, tan walls, and mix-match of chairs and ottomans. There were a few pieces of tasteful hotel quality artwork, and an oversized dresser with a standard flat screen t.v. on top. The previously mentioned balcony was the rooms greatest feature in my estimation. Now on to the not-so-hot side of things; the bed, my kingdom for a

Notice the “waviness” of the mattress.

 proper bed. My wife immediately noticed upon entering the room that the bed appeared wavy. Which later on we confirmed as not having the firmness of a quality mattress. To complicate matter further the pillows were limp, my head sinking through them like a knife slices warm butter. I can put up with a variety of small nuances during my stay at any particular accommodation, but one non-negotiable remains, a good night’s rest. Unfortunately our bed at the Park Hyatt was unable to fulfill this requirement, thus leading me to lower its overall rating 1/2 of a star to 4 stars despite how it is presented as a 4 1/2 star at Expedia, and the likes. I will say to Hyatt’s credit that when I tweeted to their handle Hyatt Concierge regarding my dislike for the bed and pillows, they quickly responded apologizing for it and offering me an upgrade on my next stay at a Hyatt.

Other features worth noting at the Park Hyatt include a descent, yet pricey restaurant, a fitness center, which unfortunately I was not able to utilize due to my poor night’s sleep, game area, and fire pits where guests are treated to nightly s’mores and roasted marshmallows. This hotel definitely caters to families but thankfully children weren’t running around wild which so often occurs at family hotels. Finally, the customer service was excellent from the bell hops to the front desk attendants to the restaurant/bar staff. They were always pleasant and very accommodating. To wrap things up I would like to pose a question to you, the readers. Do you find that the caliber of mountain hotels are the same or different to those in city centers?

New York, Baby! Pt.2: Accommodations at the Double Tree by Hilton Metropolitan Hotel

After rolling our luggage nine blocks up Lexington Avenue, my wife and I were happy to finally arrive at the entrance of the Double Tree by Hilton Metropolitan Hotel or Doubletree Met for short. We could actually see the hotel from a few blocks away as it displayed a vertical Double Tree sign spanning several stories fashioned in a mid-century style. The marquee above the entrance showed a more contemporary look. Crossing the entrance threshold, a modern looking registration area presented itself front and center with a simple, yet elegant lobby and lounge located directly to the right. Since we checked in around 6:30 p.m. there wasn’t much of a line. A front desk attendant assisted us almost instantly. She verified our reservation for three nights in the Presidential Suite. “What, the Presidential Suite?” I said in disbelief, thinking there must be some kind of mistake. We had booked our reservation as a hot travel deal through Travelzoo, assuring an excellent rate of $169 a night for Friday and Saturday and $119 for Sunday night. Obviously nothing in the fine print guaranteed the potential consumer a night in the second best room of the house! After having the attendant re-verify the rates, my wife and I bubbled up with excitement, still shocked that we secured such rocking accommodations. Although a bit perplexing at first as to how this good fortune had found us, an epiphany about what may have happened surfaced in my mind.
I followed Double Tree on twitter and about a week before our trip to New York there was a tweet saying that the president of Double Tree wanted to here from you (the public that is). Taking the bait, I tweeted back that I had been a long time fan of the Hilton brand and that I was about to embark on my first stay at a Double Tree at their Manhattan Midtown East location. Not expecting a response, you can imagine my surprise when he tweeted back to me a few days before the trip wishing me a great stay at the Double Tree Met and to enjoy New York. He had also sent the reply to Double Tree in general and the Double Tree Met specifically. Not thinking anything else would come of it, I happily replied, giving him my thanks and assuring that we would have a great time. Not knowing exactly what went down, there must have been some additional communication regarding my accommodations between the president and the Double Tree Met, or rather the Double Tree Met took matters into their own hands having received the communiqué from the president. My guess is that having not sold the Presidential Suite during our stay, they upgraded us due to our twitter interactions. They had even pre-registered our stay. Regardless of how it all went down, what an awesome treat that I can only ascribe to the power of social media and twitter specifically.

The Presidential Suite comprised the best of a New York stay. I had heard that New York hotel rooms were are on the small side, but this suite defied such odds. Upon entering the room a small vestibule separated the living area and breakfast nook to the right and the bedroom to the left. Also immediately on each side of the vestibule bathrooms conveniently were placed with the one on the bedroom side containing a contemporary shower minus the bathtub. The living area maintained simple yet functional furniture, the same going for the  breakfast nook. On top of the breakfast table we noticed a tray with all types of goodies such as cheeses, crackers, cupcakes, Voss water, and a welcome note in envelope addressed to me. The note and welcoming tray  was such a nice touch to make us feel at home! The best aspect of the room involved windows that stretched across the whole expanse, which when the curtains were drawn revealed  a beautiful view of Lexington Ave. facing uptown.

The bedroom featured a king-sized bed that my wife and I absolutely loved. We are a bit picky regarding our hotel beds, but the comfort we felt from this one coupled by the awesome nights of sleep could not be beat. A simple headboard with photo artwork depicting the city  hung above the bed. That motif of photo artwork portraying the city popped up through out the suite, in the living areas and bathrooms to boot. Overall impressions of the room left me feeling a great sense of comfort from the size, layout, and a style both contemporary and functional. No doubt the bar has been set high for subsequent visits to New York.

The best amenities of the hotel included the fitness center and lounge. The fitness center, located on the second floor, maintained a nice array of strength conditioning and cardiovascular equipment. I looked forward to my morning run on the treadmill everyday overlooking the action on the corner of 51st and Lexington. The lounge as previously mentioned positioned itself next to Registration and the lobby. Small and open, yet chic and dim enough to conjure a romantic ambiance, it provided a great opportunity for a night cap or late night snack. It also so happened to be a great place to people watch due to its open floor plan and proximity to the lobby and registration.

It may be hard to top the experience I had staying at the Doubletree Met for my first visit to New York. The hotel has a fantastic location, with a subway station right there and short walks to Grand Central Terminal, Rockefeller Center, 5th Avenue shopping, and Central Park. The unexpected upgrade to the Presidential Suite set the tone for our visit and guaranteed comfort and rest for the duration of our stay. Finally, the value thanks to the Travelzoo deal meant more money to spend in the city. I want to pose a question to those who read this blog post. What has been your favorite hotel experience while visiting New York? Stay tuned for the final installment of New York, Baby where I talk about my favorite touristic highlights of the Big Apple!

Travelzoo, You’re my boy but what gives with the twitter contest prizes?

Image representing Travelzoo as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

One Friday this June I participated in a contest hosted by Travelzoo on Twitter. Our job as contestants was to come-up with a catchy caption to describe a photo. The winner was promised a prize. The photo happened to be a series of 4 or 5 drinks on a serving table. I studied the photo meticulously, hoping that a theme would emerge thus leading me to a rich response and assured victory. Noticing that all the drinks possessed fruit in some capacity or another, an idea emerged. With a soft-chuckle and swift manipulation of the keyboard, I entered the caption “Got that Friday Fruity Feelin!” Immediately an aura of confidence in winning overcame me, re-affirmed more strongly as my fellow competitors’ responses took shape. Soon thereafter the Travelzoo moderator stated that a winner would be chosen on Monday. “Wow, a whole weekend to wait before the winner is announced”, I thought. Quickly I forgot about the endeavor as gratification was being delayed for at least a few days.

Having forgotten totally about the contest over the weekend, you can imagine my shock when I saw my twitter handle posted as the winner of the Friday picture-caption contest. I couldn’t believe it. I never win contests, let alone social media ones. The message requested that I send an email to the moderator at Travelzoo. I did so almost immediately, checking and rechecking the email address to make sure my acceptance of victory ended up in the right hands. After clicking send I must have refreshed my yahoo inbox 50 times or so the rest of the afternoon but nothing came. As a matter of fact nothing came that day nor the next, which prompted concern on my part that some how the email never made it, like it had been kidnapped by a band of internet pirates. On Wednesday I began debating on when to follow-up with the moderator about the status of my prize. Then shortly before noon I was contacted. The moderator asked for my address to send the prize. I responded rapidly with my mailing address and began waiting in great anticipation for my prize.

A week or so went by when my doorbell rang and a FedEx package placed at my doorstop. The size of the box surprised me, knowing that I was to receive Travelzoo Local Deals gift cards per my email conversation with the contest moderator. During the time between the conversation with the moderator and the delivery of the package, I filled my head with thoughts about the gift certificates. I imagined two $25 gift certificates being sent, in which I could amply apply them to a couple of fun meals at trendy Denver restaurants with my wife. So you can imagine my surprise when I opened the box and found an umbrella, pen, and five $5 gift cards inside. After getting over my initial disappointment, I tried to see if I could combine the cards for one Travelzoo Local Deal. No such luck, as each deal would only accept one gift card code.

I feel a little weird complaining about the prize from a twitter contest. After all it cost me nothing but a few moments of my time. I even enjoyed coming up with the silly caption. I guess I just believe that if a company is going to offer a prize for a contest it should actually be worth winning. Travelzoo can take a page out of the book of other online travel companies the likes of Expedia an Orbitz who offer free round trip tickets and travel vouchers of value in the hundreds of dollars. I continue to support Travelzoo for the quality of travel products they promote. It’s just that I will take a long look before investing time and energy into one of their online contests again.