If you like the comfort of booking your stay on a hotel-owned website and dealing directly with the property when something goes awry, then a new collaborative venture, RoomKey.com, should be on your radar.
Founded in January by Choice Hotels , Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt , InterContinental Hotels Group, Wyndham and Marriott , Room Key is designed to give the benefits of booking your room directly with the hotel and enough choice from these hotel chains and their partners that you won't be tempted to plunk your money down on an online travel agency site instead.
Here's how RoomKey works:
You enter your desired destination and dates, and Room Key's default hotel results show properties based on their proximity to the city center. You can alternately change the sort order based on price, hotel name and star rating.
On Room Key, which has an attractive and uncluttered look, you can then view an overview of each property, along with photos, a map and ratings and review snippets from TripAdvisor.
Along with the room rate and estimated total price, including taxes and fees, some of the hotel listings feature "Book at" buttons that show the hotel logo. Others display "Book it" buttons with no logo. This logo or no-logo distinction is all-important on Room Key.
If you decide to book a property for which the hotel logo is shown, you'll navigate from Room Key right to the hotel website. There, you generally (but not always) will be able to reserve the room with your credit card without prepaying. You'll get the benefit of earning rewards points, avoid the unpredictability of diverse booking fees from online travel agencies, and make special requests for things such as early check-in or connecting rooms.
After the reservation, you also can pick up a phone and call the property with any changes or wish-list items, says John Davis, Room Key's CEO. "It is the hospitality industry," he says.
If you opt to use the "Book it" button with no hotel logo shown, you'll be booking the room on a Room Key-branded page, but not directly with the hotel. It isn't immediately apparent from the booking page, but these hotels come through a Room Key partnership with Travelocity.
When booking one of these rooms through the Travelocity Partner Network, you'll have to prepay and might miss the benefits of booking directly with the hotel.
If you don't want to deal with the uncertainty inherent in using sites such as Hotwire or Priceline , in which you don't know the hotel identity upfront, or want to avoid online travel agency sites and last-minute mobile apps such as HotelTonight, then Room Key is worth a look.
Room Key doesn't have the hotel choices of sites such as Priceline's Booking.com, which offers nearly 215,000 hotels. Room Key currently offers about 20,000 to 30,000 properties from its founders and partners such as Best Western. Another 50,000 or so are available via the Travelocity partnership.
Catching a Break
In trying Room Key, I found instances when it offered a different room type or lower rates at specific properties of its founding hotels than were available on sites such as Expedia , Orbitz , Hotels.com, Booking.com, Travelocity and Priceline.
For example, you could book a studio with two queen beds and a sofa bed at the Residence Inn City Center in Philadelphia for a June 4 stay on Marriott.com, via Room Key, at a $269 room rate. The lowest rates there on Expedia and Orbitz were $279 for a different type of room.
You could save about $20 a night on the total room price of $144.31 if you booked a June 20 stay at Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Phoenix Downtown-Ballpark on the hotel website, via Room Key, compared with the total prices at Hotels.com, Orbitz and Priceline.
In several other searches, the rates on the hotel websites through Room Key were within pennies of the rates on major online travel agency sites.
In addition to Room Key's lack of hotel choices compared with some online travel agencies, there's another caution: You need to read the fine print when you navigate to the various hotel-chain websites. Cancellation policies and the acceptance of special requests vary widely.
Still, if you're interested in dodging the task of scouring multiple hotel websites for a steep discount, Room Key provides a convenient and flexible way to shop for stays at major chains.