What’s really included?

September 30, 2011

I’ve been organizing my flights, hotel bookings, and car rental for my trip to the US in March 2012 for the annual WritersUA conference.

Some of the travel booking websites are great — clear, easy to use, and you know exactly what to expect. Others… well, let’s just say there’s a whole world of usability issues associated with hotel, airline, and car rental websites. I won’t go into the myriad variations of selecting a date range (and what’s with me selecting a ‘to’ date for March 2012, but the ‘from’ date remains set at today’s date??).

Today I’ll focus on the list of ‘amenities’ and ‘inclusions’. The problem with these is that it’s rarely clear as to what is included and what you have to pay for as an extra.

Here’s an example I came across in my search for hotel rooms (this was for a hotel close to Sydney Airport, Australia):

Check out the second sentence: ‘Includes free parking… and airport transfers’. So you’d assume that parking and airport transfers are free. But no. There’s some generic statement about ‘conditions apply’ to the ‘free parking’ (but these conditions are not stated anywhere on the website, so you don’t know whether you’ll meet their conditions for free parking or not).

The second part of the sentence is just plain contradictory. After telling you that airport transfers are included, the parenthetical statement is that ‘a small cost of $6 p.p. per way’ applies. Thus airport transfers are NOT included in the room rate, even though you’d assume it is because it’s in the ‘Included’ part of the sentence. If there are two of you and you have to get to the hotel from the domestic terminal, that’s going to cost you $12 extra, then if you have to get to the international terminal the following day, that’ll be another $12, thus increasing the hotel room rate by some $24 per stay.

Now let’s take a look at a typical description for a hotel room. Once you get past the flowery language and look at what you get, it’s not at all clear what’s included in the room rate and what’s not. In the screen shot below, I’ve highlighted in green those things that I *assume* are included in the rate. The items highlighted in pink are questionable — are they included for no extra charge or not? If there is an extra charge for these items, how do I find out what it is? Most of the hotel websites don’t tell you!

I assume the items in green are included; I'm not sure about those in pink

I assume the items in green are included; I'm not sure about those in pink

I had to hunt a little further on this hotel’s website to find this:

But how much is it?

But how much is it?

The issue here is how much does the internet access cost? Is it free? Is there an hourly/daily charge? If so, how much? Is it free in the lobby but not in the rooms?

The Sydney hotel I ended up booking told me over the phone that internet access was $29 for 24 hours (that’s just highway robbery, in my opinion!), but I couldn’t find out how much it is at that Dallas hotel on any of the aggregation sites or the parent chain’s website.

I’d like to see the list of ‘amenities’ in a room’s description divided into two — one for what’s included, and one for what’s an extra charge (or at least some visual indication such as an asterisk as to what you’ll pay extra for, with links to how much you’ll pay).

Ease of use and transparency of actual charges that I’ll incur would help me make decisions more quickly and allow me to compare prices more easily. Is a hotel that’s more expensive but that includes free internet access a better deal than the slightly cheaper hotel that charges an exorbitant rate for internet access? Is the hotel room rate that includes all taxes etc. a better deal than one that excludes them so you’ll think the price is lower but will get hit with a nasty surprise at the end of your stay when you find out about the state tax, the city tax, the room tax, the fire tax, the airport tax, the credit card fee, and whatever else they want to add to your bill.

What do you think?

Update: Speaking of added fees, check out this list… The car rental for two weeks is $286.00. The compulsory ‘extras’ add another $202 to that rate! And there’s also a further disclaimer that more charges may apply! Unbelievable. And there’s no indication as to what each of these charges are for. Sometimes I think they just make them up…

Oh, and if you add insurance to that, expect to increase the charges by anything from $10 to $30 per DAY to that total charge.

Then I clicked on a link in tiny print to find this nasty:

Followed by this one:

That’s another $21 on the ‘total’ rate for a two-week rental…

On one of the other car rental websites, was this:

So, even if I’m only going to go on one toll road in 14 days, I could get whacked for another $140…

Update: I found the Twitter account name for that hotel in Dallas and sent them a Tweet asking about the internet rates. Two weeks later — no reply. Why bother having a Twitter account for customers if you don’t respond?

[Link last checked September 2011]

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