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As you are undoubtedly aware, I spend the larger part of my life in seedy hotel rooms, and it has become my mission in life to find decent hotel accommodation, without having to spend a fortune. Ever since Lady Moose first wrote about this site, I’ve often dipped in and out to see what’s what, and finally come to some sort of conclusion about the service offered. As a rule, I book my hotel rooms through a travel agent, but in order to keep them on their toes, I keep myself up to date with the deals on offer online, to make sure they are working hard for their money.
WHAT IS LATEROOMS.COM ALL ABOUT?
“The hotel industry late availability database”.
Sounds good doesn’t it? This immediately conjures up images of a system similar to that adopted by high street travel agents, where hotel rooms will be slashed in price to make a quick sale. With the events of September 11th, the travel industry as a whole is going through a slump, so the deals available for customers should be better than ever. www.laterooms.com is a relatively new player in the online travel industry and offers cut-price hotel accommodation across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. “Database” is an appropriate description for this site, because it holds an enormous catalogue of hotels and guesthouses in a wide range of destinations and resorts. The site is affiliated with www.latelet.com who specialise in cottages, villas and other holiday homes and with www.latecabins.com who deal with cruises.
First impressions of the web site have always been disappointing for me – a bland design, complemented with a lacklustre colour scheme certainly doesn’t inspire the visitor. That aside, the home page is free from flashy graphics, annoying pop-ups and lurid advertisements to distract you, and there is a lot to be said for keeping things simple. There are five separate drop-down menus presented on the home page, presenting the various geographical categories in five separate languages (which could probably more easily be facilitated via a simple menu with language options).
Once you have selected a country, you will then be presented with a listings screen, which shows typical deals available in the country of your choice. One of the things that I like most about this site is that it is tightly focused on providing users with information. The layout is logical and simple, and the few advertisements shown relate directly to the matter in hand – hotel accommodation. Hence, we are not taunted with unwanted links to an online gaming site, or an advert for Britannia music. Advertising doesn’t have to be a nuisance if it is well-managed and relevant.
I would argue that the font size used to display the details of the hotels is too small, but this could easily be rectified. I also think that too many deals are presented on one page, but again these are minor criticisms. On the whole, navigation around the site is simple, intuitive and fast.
FINDING A ROOM
Once you have selected the country of your choice, you can then carry out a more detailed search for the exact location that you require. You can input the name of a town or city or you can select one of the pre-fixed regions shown in the drop down menu – a link to an online map is also provided to help you find what you want. You select an arrival date – which can be up to three weeks before the actual date – the number of nights required (a maximum of seven), and how many people need the room (1 adult, 2 adults, 2 adults + 1 child etc).
There are two main problems with this method of searching. Firstly, without the ability to select a specific postcode, finding a hotel in a rural or out of town location can take time. If you are looking for hotels in London, then you’ll have no problem. If you’re looking for a country village, you might not have the same luck. Secondly, the 7 night limit means that a 14 day break will need to be booked in two hits – what if the first 7 nights are available but the second seven aren’t? This is particularly problematic if you’re trying to book a 14 night holiday. It is clear that the emphasis for users of this site is more likely to be for guests who want a few nights at short notice, rather than people who are booking a major holiday.
The listings clearly demonstrate what it is that you are looking at. The name of the hotel is displayed followed by a more detailed location description (for some cities, such as London, you get the postcode). The hotel’s rating will then be displayed, followed by availability for the three nights following the arrival date that you selected. Where the hotel has an available room, the offered rate will be displayed under the relevant date heading. If you see a room that you like the look of, you can click the details link to get more information about the hotel in question.
HOTELS – RANGE AND AVAILABILITY
The site contains rooms in a variety of standards of hotels – there is a good cross-section of prices and rating according to your destination. For example, select Newcastle for arrival on June 3rd and there are 31 different hotels listed, ranging from 2 ** up to 4 **, and with prices ranging from £39 per night up to £120 per night. Most of the major hotel chains are represented, such as Thistle, Hilton and Novotel, as well as smaller, private hotels.
One thing you always need to bear in mind is that the price shown is the starting price. According to the conditions of your visit, the price you are ultimately offered may not be the same as that shown on the main listings page. The rates shown are per room – not per person – but the minimum price may refer to a room that sleeps only one person. You will need to drill down into the detailed listings to find a quote for the room that matches your requirement.
BOOKING YOUR ROOM – THE LATEROOMS PROCESS
There are two main ways that you can book a room through the site.
Some hotels will have a link, which, when clicked, provides the telephone contact details, and you simply book direct over the telephone. You’ll need to quote laterooms.com to get the rate advertised. Other hotels will direct you to an online booking link. In these instances, the online booking is generally facilitated via the hotel’s own web site. The drawback here is that the rate you secure will often not match that advertised on laterooms.com.
I don’t mind booking over the phone, because in that instance laterooms.com has simply acted as a portal. My main dislike is when I am directed to another site altogether – it tends to be a very slow process.
EXAMINING THE MYTHS
At first glance, the site appears to hold some extremely lucrative deals – when you examine the detailed listings, you are first presented with the standard price and then the discounted price, and discounts of 50% are not rare. Don’t be so easily fooled though – regular visitors will probably recognise the site for what it is.
Firstly, if anyone believes that these hotels are actually slashing their prices, then they are heavily mistaken. The same list of hotels will always appear, regardless of when you want to travel, and the prices will fluctuate wildly, based on seasonal variations. Given that rooms will be advertised up to three weeks in advance, the concept of clearance prices is simply not valid. The site is actually a portal for hotels to advertise special offers, that are allocated to a fixed number of rooms. It’s worth noting that only certain hotels advertise on this site – as a hotel industry database, it’s not quite what it’s cracked up to be.
The evidence is simple to find. When I tried to book a room in Jury’s, London, I first telephoned the hotel to find out what the minimum rate was. The answer was £162. Laterooms.com advertised rooms for the same night at £115. I contacted the hotel again and asked for the laterooms.com discount – and was advised that there were no rooms left. Two calls, in as many minutes, with two very different answers. My faith that this site is a genuine clearance sale is therefore grossly undermined. You should also bear in mind that none of the hotels are obliged to offer you the laterooms.com discount. The information contained in the web site is updated and maintained by the hotels themselves – laterooms.com has no control over this. If you therefore contact the hotel, and they refuse to offer you the rate advertised, then the web site will not get involved.
How late is late? I often need to book a hotel room for the same day. Many hotels will not accept laterooms.com reservations after 6 p.m. Strangely enough, the hotel will offer you a room at full price – but will be unable to offer the laterooms.com price, because you haven’t given enough notice. The bottom line is this – laterooms.com is a sales gimmick, which is dressed up to be something it’s not. You can secure equally good discounts (if not better) by dealing with travel agencies, who have more buying power and much more scope to offer the real, last minute deals.
Another pitfall that I have found when using the site is that the cancellation policy tends to be very harsh. I found a nice hotel in London reduced from £185 to £115 (woohoo!) but then had to cancel the day before. The cancellation policy was 48 hours notice - and so I ended up having to pay the £115 anyway. Always check this first - if they don't do same day cancellations (time allowing) I should tell them to sling their hook.
That’s not to say that www.laterooms.com is a complete waste of time – there are some good discounts theoretically available. I suspect that the smaller hotels will be more flexible with rates, as they cannot afford to renege on rates advertised on the site, and will be keen to retain your business. Nonetheless, to take advantage, you actually need to have plenty of time to book (which kind of defeats the object of a last minute web site). I use laterooms.com as a bargaining tool. If I tell my travel agent that laterooms.com has a certain rate, then they will ensure that rate is matched – or even better, beaten.
This site is well laid out, easily navigated and very user friendly – it just isn’t quite what it purports to be. www.laterooms.com operates via a system of hype. Casual, or occasional users will log on and will see a feast of supposed treats before their very eyes – this is clearly a Eutopian view. My advice would be to shop further around. Refer to the hotel’s own websites, refer to laterooms.com and refer to your travel agent – and between the three of them, negotiate a price that you are prepared to pay. If you really can leave it to the last minute, you’ll be surprised what discounts you can still obtain.
Overall, I have decided to recommend the site though, because the discounts (if you get them) are considerable.
I think your summary was very fair. If users are sufficiently intelligent as to go in with their eyes open, there are certainly bargains to be had. That is the bottom line, I guess!
ShoppingGirl 14.11.2002 18:00
I guess this is the classic case of travel companies getting away with murder, as people are convinced that the internet will miraculously yeild astonishing bargains. If you are ever travelling internationally, I would recommend hotelreservationnetwork.com, we have used them 3 times for bookings in the USA and got genuine bargains each time. Cheers, Kaz
jamez 07.11.2002 19:21
Its good that you point out to us unwary consumers the pitfalls and how to avoid them - Thanks!