“Book now—just one room left.” “Only two rooms remain at $145.”
If you shop online for a hotel room, you likely will encounter warnings such as these. Don’t believe them. There likely are many rooms remaining—the travel booking site is claiming otherwise to create a sense of scarcity, encouraging panicked buy-now thinking that discourages shopping around for a better deal.
Almost every third-party hotel booking site uses this trick, and hotel chains sometimes do, too. How do they get away with it? Although these tactics are extraordinarily misleading, the sites have found ways to avoid telling outright lies. Examples: The claim “one room left” might refer to a very specific type of room, such as a handicapped-accessible smoking-permitted room with a king-size bed—there might be only one left because there’s only one in the entire hotel. The claim “only one left at $198” is technically correct even when there are dozens available for $199. The claim “only one room available” might be true because the hotel or site is opting to make only one room available for the moment—but once that room is booked, another room will be made “available.”
What to do: Be skeptical of warnings that a deal is about to sell out. It’s likely that the same offer—or possibly an even better one—still will be available after you shop around. If you get nervous, book the enticing deal only at a rate that allows you to cancel, then shop around and cancel this deal if you find a better one.
If you don’t want to shop around much and you are flexible about which hotel you stay at, the sites most likely to offer the best prices are Hotwire and Priceline Express Deals (Priceline.com, enter a destination, then click “Express Deals”). They won’t specify which hotel you’re booking until you book, but it’s often possible to deduce this by examining the details of the listing, such as the hotel’s neighborhood, star ranking, amenities and added fees. Savings average around 38% compared with other booking sites—though you will have to ignore “one room left” warnings on these sites, too.