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Can You Trust Online Travel Search Results?

Does using a Mac or PC affect your search results on online travel site Orbitz?

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Orbitz revealed it has found consumers who use Apple Mac computers spend as much as 30 percent more a night on hotels, so the online travel agency is starting to recommend sometimes costlier travel options than Windows visitors see, according to a report.

But before you jump to conclusions, know that pricing is always the same. The ability to sort results by price — and other options like hotel name, star rating and point of interest — are still available to all consumers, no matter the computer used for a search.

This revelation simply means consumers need to be smart when searching and know that "recommended" hotels are just that — a suggestion. The power to pick a hotel still rests with the user.

“All consumers see the same prices on hotels on Orbitz,” Orbitz CEO Barney Harford said on CNBC's "Closing Bell."

“Fundamentally our recommendation algorithms are just trying to find customers great deals by showing customers hotels that similar customers have booked,” Harford said.

In an email to CNBC.com, Orbitz spokesperson Chris Chiames says, "Shoppers are shown identical (hotel) prices. They may see differences in a recommended hotel (PC vs. Mac), primarily in the 'recommended hotels' section (once you click on a property, we will suggest others you might like)."

CEO Harford in May blogged for the USA Today and revealed that Mac users are 40 percent more likely to book a four- or five-star hotel than their Windows-based PC counterparts. As such, Orbitz is able to display these types of hotels as "recommended" for users navigating to their website on a Mac.

Harford chimed in to further explain, "Nonsense that we'd charge Mac users more for the same hotel, which is unfortunately the incorrect impression that many readers seem to be drawing."

He says that the data showing Mac users book more upscale hotels is just one of many factors that determine which hotels to recommend to a given customer. This is part of larger efforts to show customers the most relevant hotels possible.

In the USA Today blog, he points to the fact that 90 percent of customers book a hotel from those listed on the first page of results (typically the first 25 hotels). He says, "If we're not showing relevant options to our customers, they will look elsewhere to make their selection."

Personalized search results are nothing new and will undoubtedly continue as companies become smarter in using deeper data mining techniques to deliver the right results to the right person.

There's no one pointing a gun to your head requiring that you book a certain hotel. Expand your search until you find what you're looking for.

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U.S. News