Whether its for business or pleasure, travel is a part of our lives and the latest research shows more people than ever are looking online to book accommodation and flights.
But when it comes to online travel bookings, how can you be sure you're getting the best value for your dollar?
Mark Gray is a professional photographer -- he travels Australia with his work and he books his travel online. Mark questions whether online rates are the cheapest -- and so did we.
So we compared three online booking engines for price. We wanted a room in Melbourne for the night and on wotif.com.au we were offered a bed in the Mantra on Little Bourke Street for $150.00. On last minute.com.au the same room was$195.00 -- the same price was offered at hotel club.com.au .
When you call direct the price is different again. We got a room for $165.00.
Wotif, last minute and hotel club are just three of up to a dozen websites on the market that purport to save you money, but the results are hit and miss.
In Sydney we chanced a night at the Medusa Hotel in Darlinghurst the online prices ranged from $195 dollars to $225 dollars, but a quick phone call to the hotel and we'd saved $20 with the same room costing $175.
In Brisbane the Chifley at Lennons online goes for anywhere between $169 and $201 -- that's for the same room, on the same night. Over the phone there's an instant saving on the same room $159.
"The hotel gets the bum in bed as we call it and the consumer gets his bum in bed without having to pay an arm and a leg", said Gary Berman, a veteran of the hotel industry.
Gary wants to turn online booking on its head. "I've managed hotels for a long, long time in and around Australia and I've seen the growth and development of the websites -- the last minute sites and the e-bays -- and I saw a gap in the middle that gave some control to the consumer", he said.
Gary says he's filled that gap by developing a website called ubid4rooms.com, where you haggle for the best price. Essentially you tell the hotel chains what you are prepared to pay for their beds. "You're not bidding against anybody else and if the hotel has got that room empty on the night, you should get a very, very good deal", Gary said.
But do you really get the best deals when we choose accommodation on the internet? "I thought it was a good deal when I booked it. It sounded good and it looked nice on the internet", said Robyn Brooks.
But in reality, Robyn's Blue Mountain escape was more of a nightmare than a dream getaway. "I expected it would be what they said it would be. You know you get enough information from the website to get a good idea of what its going to be like and the pictures were just of the front of the motel, carefully framed. And you know cameras these days can make it look like a mansion and its not", Robyn said.
That's the problem. With the internet comes convenience but it can be costly. Mark Gray says never judge a hotel by its internet page "I think whichever one you look at, you're going to get a different price. And if you're really wanting to save, I would suggest shopping around as much as possible", he said.