Websites like HotelTonight have long tried to solve the dilemma of when to book hotel rooms to get the best rates. Online travel agencies like Booking.com and Hopper have added price protection programs for the same reason. And still travelers complain about how hard it is to find a good deal on a hotel. Now a new site, HotelSlash, joins the quest, promising discounted hotel rates to members and a tracking service that monitors reservations for price dips.
“We’re travel hackers at heart,” said Jonathan Weinberg, the chief executive and a co-founder of HotelSlash. He also runs AutoSlash, a platform for rental car deals that will track reservations and tip off travelers to any decrease in prices so that they can cancel — most car rental agencies allow free cancellations — and rebook at a lower rate.
HotelSlash, he added, targets “cost-conscious leisure travelers.”
For the next three months, the site is offering a 90-day free trial, though Mr. Weinberg said it will always offer a limited free-trial period for new users; thereafter, annual membership costs $29.95.
How does it work and what are the benefits of enlisting a rate hawk? The answers follow.
Users can book hotel rooms through HotelSlash by choosing their destination (either a specific hotel or a city), dates of travel and number of travelers. Unlike other booking sites, HotelSlash sends an email with a link to the results, adding a step to the process. The email shows up within minutes, and the results are robust. Even when I searched for a specific property — the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas — I got its room prices as well as prices for nearby hotels, including a variety of room types and rates, such as prepaid non-refundable and refundable.
Mr. Weinberg said the discounted prices HotelSlash receives are “controlled user group rates,” an industry term for prices negotiated by membership organizations and businesses such as AAA and Costco.
It’s not for loyalty-point hoarders. The site doesn’t allow users to enter their membership numbers, and even though travelers may request points from a hotel directly, there’s no guarantee a property will comply.
“Fewer travelers belong to hotel loyalty programs than have airline loyalty memberships, so travelers are more willing to book through a third party,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and president of the market research and advisory firm Atmosphere Research Group.
To its credit, HotelSlash very clearly states rates and what they include, such as taxes. It is also transparent about the terms, requiring users to click a box saying that they “understand and agree that the reservation is non-refundable on or after” a given date.
Most promising is HotelSlash’s service in monitoring rates for any price drops, in which case users will be alerted and can cancel their existing reservation — assuming the cancellation is penalty-free — and make a new one at a lower rate. (Defending themselves from rate hawks, some hotels are moving their cancellation windows out from 24 hours to 48 or 72 hours.)
“We recommend booking as early as possible,” Mr. Weinberg said, adding that users have saved an average of 25 percent in the past two years when the website was in development. “The longer time horizon we have to look for better deals, the better off we are.”
Hotel rates can be volatile, but catching a decline is often a matter of luck or diligence. Independently, Mr. Harteveldt recently checked on a five-day reservation in Atlanta and found the daily rate had dropped $50, so he rebooked. If HotelSlash “costs $30 a year and they find a less expensive rate for the same hotel and the same room or better and it’s more than the $30 membership, it pays for itself with one stay,” he said.
As with most travel bookings, those travelers who work the hardest — meaning they do a lot of comparison searches and price checks — tend to save the most.
Many hotel booking sites aim to reduce work by offering price guarantees. Booking.com will match a lower price found elsewhere, but the onus is on the traveler to find it and pursue a refund. For a fee, Hopper will allow you to freeze a price at a hotel and if it rises, you will pay the difference. Fees vary and are applied to any booking, but are forfeited if a user does not book the room. In taking on price monitoring, Hotel Slash handles the later-stage legwork, often for less.
But consumers should always do comparison searches in making the initial booking.
Exploring HotelSlash, I found some rates that were better than at hotel websites. I sometimes found similar rates at other online agencies. Other times, I found slightly better rates at hotel sites directly, but comparing them required scrutiny of the terms. For example, for a three-night refundable stay in June at the Paris Las Vegas Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, I got a quote of $831, including taxes, but excluding nearly $138 in resort fees for a total of $969 from HotelSlash; including taxes and fees, Expedia’s price was $981. An initial quote of $702 from the hotel itself grew to $952 with taxes and fees once I clicked through to the payment page.
As at online travel agencies and hotel websites, the best rates advertised are often non-refundable and inherently risky. “Unless the savings are really, really meaningful and you are 110 percent firm on your plans, don’t book non-refundable rates,” Mr. Harteveldt advised. “Plans change and it is always better to have a rate that is flexible.”
Elaine Glusac writes the Frugal Traveler column. Follow her on Instagram @eglusac.
Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram and sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to get expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places to Go in 2023.