September 17, 2003, 12:00 AM

Compared to airlines, hotels shine in study of online travel sites

Travelers booking hotel rooms online encounter relatively few errors--15% get page errors vs. 37% at airline sites, says a study by Web Mystery Shoppers.

Kurt Peters

Executive Editor

Travelers booking hotel rooms online encounter relatively few errors while navigating the site, but are frustrated by lack of information about the full price they’ll pay for a room and the hotel’s location relative to tourist or business destinations, and no easy way to sort search results by price, says a new study by Edmonton, Aberta-based Web Mystery Shoppers International Inc.

Customers searching for accommodations in hotel web sites received error messages only 15% of the time compared to 37% at airline sites, the study says. "Booking a hotel is easier because there aren`t usually as many different options to choose from," says Tema Frank, president of Web Mystery Shoppers. "But I was surprised to find that the airline sites are doing a better job of telling people what their plans will cost. Even business travelers do usually have a budget, so they need to know the costs to make a decision."

In spite of the frustrations, hotel shoppers were generally pleased with the experience. When asked if they would recommend the site to a friend, the average response from hotel shoppers was 4.25 on a 5 point scale, where 5 means "definitely", versus only 3.86 for those trying to book airplane tickets. However, 75% of air travelers versus only 59% of hotel bookers were confident that they knew what the total costs would be before starting to place their orders.

Web Mystery Shoppers visited 30 hotel chains and booking agency web sites: Best Western Inc., Cheaprooms.com, Cheaptickets.com, Comfort Inns, Country Inns & Suites, Crowne Plaza, Days Inn, EconoLodge, Expedia.com, Fairmont Hotels, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Hampton Inns, Hilton Hotels, Holiday Inn, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com, Hyatt Hotels, Marriott, Motel 6, Octopustravel.com, Orbitz.com, Priceline.com, Radisson Hotels and Resorts, Red Roof Inns, Sheraton, Super 8, Travelocity.com, Travelogia.com, Travelweb.com, and Westin Hotels.

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