Posted by Ric Garrido

Travel media is buzzing over the new hotel booking site Tingo.com that launched yesterday.  Tingo.com is a hotel booking site that lets a person book a hotel and then receive an automatic refund if the hotel rate drops before the hotel stay’s cancellation date. Some press articles are calling this site a major game change for consumers that could “potentially corner the travel/hotel booking market.

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The Tingo.com concept is simple and a radical shift from other online travel agency hotel booking sites.

Let’s say I book a 1-night hotel stay for June 15, 2012 in Monterey, California for $150 per night on Tingo.com. The website promises to automatically recheck my hotel stay date and rate and automatically rebook my stay at a lower rate if the price drops before my stay.

If the rate drops for my $150 per night hotel booking to $130 per night before my stay, then I get a $20 refund to the credit card I used to book the stay on Tingo.com. There is no need for me to watch rates for rate drops. Tingo.com takes care of that chore and automatically refunds my card.

Tingo.com has a chart showing a typical rate refund based on bookings from September 2011-January 2012.

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The graphic shows that four out of six bookings made 4 weeks before the hotel stay date received a refund with an average savings of $53 on a 2-night stay.

Loyalty Traveler Analysis of Tingo.com

I think Tingo.com is one of the most interesting developments to appear in the hotel industry in the past several years. Timing a hotel stay booking is a challenge and I spend plenty of time rechecking rates for most of my hotel stays to look for price drops.

Here are the Tingo.com limitations as far as I can tell:

1. Money Back Rates are based on the Best Available Flexible Rate. This means there might be lower prepaid nonrefundable rates, but they don’t apply for Money Back refunds since these low rates do not allow cancellation.

Tingo.com uses flexible cancellation policies to rebook your hotel rate if the rate drops before your stay and refunds you the difference in rates.

This is a win-win for Tingo.com and the consumer. Tingo.com still makes money on all the hotel bookings whether the rate drops or not. Online travel agencies like Expedia.com take about a 20% cut on the published room rate for hotel bookings. That is why major hotel chains have loyalty programs offering points and hotel stay benefits to members who book directly through the hotel chain’s channels.

2. Tingo.com hotel rates are based on Expedia.com rates.

There are hundreds of online booking sites. Kayak.com is the site I like for comparing rates on multiple online travel agency hotel booking sites. Apparently Tingo.com uses Expedia rates when checking rates and rate drops.

Major hotel chains offer Best Rate Guarantee stating the lowest price will be found on the hotel chain’s own websites. That is true 99% of the time. I have filed dozens of BRG claims with hotel chains. Hotels.com, an Expedia company is one OTA I’ve used for successful BRG claims. Most of my BRG claims are based on much smaller sites. Expedia.com does not come to mind as one of the hotel booking sites where I have found many BRG eligible lower rates.

Most hotels give a 10% AAA discount on best available rate (BAR). You can generally expect to save at least 10% on the flexible rate given on most online travel agency sites using a group rate like AAA or senior rate. You can often save 20 to 35% compared to an OTA  flexible rate buying prepaid nonrefundable rates for hotels directly from the hotel’s website.

Unless you get a refund of 10% or more on the Tingo.com rate you book, then you really are not saving compared to other rate discounts you could have booked directly with the hotel.

Questions and insight to Tingo.com booking process

Monterey, California where I live is a vacation destination. There are about 200 hotels within ten miles of my home and probably 50% or more of these hotels are not a member of a major hotel chain brand. Monterey seemed like the perfect place to check out Tingo.com rates.

Carmel Wayfarer Inn, Carmel, California April 24 – April 26, 2012

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The Tingo “Money Back” symbol indicates this hotel booking is eligible for the automatic refund program if booked on Tingo.com.

Dare to Compare!

I found it interesting that the website has a link for checking hotel rates on other online travel agency sites like Expedia, Orbitz, Booking.com, Hotels.com and Travelocity.

I clicked this link and compared the hotel rate for the Carmel Wayfarer Inn on these other sites.

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Dare to Compare rates shown for Expedia.com are same as Tingo.com.

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Travelocity.com rates are same as Tingo.com.

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Orbitz.com rates are same as Tingo.com.

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Booking.com rates are lower than Tingo.com by $12 for the lowest priced room. The rate is $8 less for the King Room and $12 less for the King suite.

What site(s) does Tingo.com use for determining a hotel rate drop?

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I was on the phone with Tingo.com customer service within 30 minutes of examining the site and not finding answers on the Tingo website to many of my questions.

The customer service agent tried to answer my questions, but was well out of her depth when trying to tell me how Tingo.com determines there has been a rate drop for a hotel booking.

I questioned why there is a “Dare to Compare” link on the website that allows me to find a lower rate, yet a lower rate on a site like Booking.com has no bearing on my ability to get an automatic hotel rate refund with Tingo.com.

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She stated that Booking.com as a Priceline company is not considered a rate drop even though the rate is lower than Tingo.com for the Carmel hotel I checked.  She said Orbitz hotel rates are also not a factor in determining hotel rate refunds.

Expedia is the world’s largest travel company and owns Hotels.com and Venere.com shown in the Dare to Compare! link. Travelocity is owned by Sabre who operates the Sabre global distribution system used by travel agents worldwide for booking airlines and hotels. Orbitz.com is another major travel booking site. Kayak.com was created by founders of Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz to compare airline rates and hotel rates across multiple sites and is still the most valuable site to me personally for finding low hotel rates.

What is Tingo.com’s affiliation with consumer travel industry?

Tingo.com is a company owned by Smarter Travel Media. Some other companies owned by Smarter Travel Media include SmarterTravel.com, BookingBuddy.com, SniqueAway.com and AirfareWatchDog.com.

TripAdvisor is the parent company of Smarter Travel Media. TripAdvisor.com was a corporate spin-off in 2011 from parent company Expedia.com.

Basically Tingo.com is a hotel booking site based on Expedia.com hotel rates as far as I can tell from press releases and news stories. Interesting though to me is the FAQ on Tingo.com and all the information on the Tingo “How it Works” automatic refund process does not have any mention of Expedia anywhere on the website.

Consumers are left to take the word of Tingo.com that an automatic refund will happen if the hotel rate drops without providing the consumer any insight into where Tingo.com checks for a hotel rate drop or how often this check is performed.

Social Media News or Opaque Business Advertisement?

There were two articles on Huffington Post yesterday about Tingo. The first article caught my attention with the title “Tingo, New Hotel Booking Site, Promises Users Hotel Refunds”.

Then I noticed an article by George Hobica, founder of airfarewatchdog.com: These Websites Watch Your Travel Booking And Refund You If The Price Drops that describes Tingo, Yapta and Autoslask as sites for staying on top of travel discounts.

I returned to these articles after spending time looking over Tingo.com. The interesting things I noted were the first article on HuffPo has no author credit. I left a comment asking if the article is a sponsored advertisement for Tingo.com.

Rereading George Hobica’s article a second time I noticed he had a disclosure statement at the end of his paragraph describing Tingo.com:

Just launched, there’s now a website that will do the price-check-and-refund work for you automatically, rebooking you at the lower rate, and checking for further drops up until the day of your arrival or until the rate becomes non-refundable (usually a day or two before arrival). There’s no work on your part. Each time the rate goes down, Tingo.com sends you an email with a new booking number at the lower price. Key here is that another consumer doesn’t have to book the same room category and dates at a lower rate for the refund to kick in, unlike Orbitz’ “Price Assurance” program, which also refunds hotel price drops but requires another Orbitz customer to book the same room type, check in/out dates, number of guests, and restrictions in order to trigger a refund. (It’s worth disclosing here that I’m the president of Airfarewatchdog.com, which is a subsidiary of Smarter Travel Media, which also operates Tingo.com.)

After reading another article in ibtimes.com about the launch of Tingo.com, I left a comment to the HuffPo article questioning whether George Hobica provided adequate disclosure about his relationship with Tingo.com.

Smarter Travel Media, a company that came to fruition in 1998, saw an opportunity to save travelers time and money by providing them with the Tingo service, according to Hobica.

“We just made our debut on the Web today,” Hobica said. “But soon enough we are going to have an app so that people can easily access the site with their smartphones and tablets.”

When asked what he thought the best feature about Tingo was, Hobica said, “it’s like our slogan says, ‘You just can’t lose.’”

Tingo.com looks like it has an innovative booking scheme for consumers. I just question the way the site has been unveiled to the public.

The launch of Tingo.com shows how social media like Huffington Post is used to advertise a company in a way that does not look like sponsored advertisement. George Hobica writes about three companies in a consumer oriented article without really revealing the extent of his involvement with one of those companies. He discloses his company has the same parent company as Tingo.com, but the other story in ibtimes.com reads like he has a role and financial interest in promoting Tingo.com.

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I left a comment on the HuffPo blog post:

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Apparently my comment was not approved as it does not appear on the HuffPo article comments today.

 

Tingo.com advantage to traditional Best Rate Guarantee Claims

Tingo.com has the advantage of letting a member book a hotel and then Tingo.com does the work of checking if the rate drops before the hotel stay.

Sounds great. Right?

As the writer of Loyalty Traveler, I focus on hotel loyalty programs of major hotel chains. Hotel loyalty programs do not award points or elite stay credit for bookings on third party online travel agencies like Tingo.com. Marriott and Hyatt though supposedly honor elite benefits even on third party bookings.

Tingo.com can probably be used by loyalty program members as a kind of insurance policy since there are no cancellation fees for Tingo.com bookings cancelled within the hotel’s policy for the rate. You can always book a hotel through Tingo.com and then sit back and see if better rates come along. Tingo will rebook your reservation and email you whenever there is a rate drop.

For example: I can book a hotel in March on Tingo.com for a stay in September and keep track of the rate changes by Tingo emails. Book a loyalty program hotel like Hilton or Marriott this way and I am notified when the rate goes down without needing to go back and check the hotel website periodically. An email from Tingo.com when a good discount comes along allows me to cancel the Tingo.com booking and rebook directly through the hotel’s website for loyalty benefits, points and stay credit.

Conclusion:  Tingo.com looks like a site with great potential value for some consumers booking hotels. This site is less useful for loyalty travelers interested in earning points and elite status with major hotel chains.

Tingo.com is primarily a site I recommend if you are booking an independent hotel or a chain hotel where you do not expect to have much in the way of hotel loyalty program benefits for your stay.

I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on Tingo.com.

9 Responses

  1. Great article, Ric! Thanks for the detailed review and analysis. This reminds me of autoslash. Tried it, but usually could get better deals through AAA offers on Hertz.

  2. Thanks for another great post! It is impressively comprehensive and analytical – like all your reviews. :) I really hope they answer the perceptive questions that you raised on the Huffington Post blog. Otherwise I think the new site is misleading and over-promises.

  3. Great analysis. I will use tingo as suggested as an alerting and hedging tool. Thanks as always.

  4. Like Joe, I might test the program only as a backup alert system of my already directly booked stays on my chain hotels. Again, kudos for the great information and legwork on analyzing the program.

  5. Just wanted to add my thanks for the objective analysis!

  6. Sounds like it would work for continuing to rebook at lower rates since they continue checking even after the first drop. Just have to have a reminder to cancel the tingo.com booking before the non-cancellation policy kicks in. Now, if they offered rebooking/refunds at AAA rates, it would make more sense to just book with them.

  7. [...] says that TripAdvisor's Tingo.com site has built a better hotel booking mousetrap. http://boardingarea.com/loyalt…-rate-refunds/ The idea does seem quite clever to me and — if I routinely used online travel agencies to book [...]

  8. Fantastic article!

  9. Beware that ANY changes you want to make to reservation whether adding or subtracting a day requires a full cancellation to accomodations and a rebooking at your own risk. Customer service e mailed that this info was in their FAQs section. I can’t find it there. It’s definitely not on any of the check out pages. I had this issue with a week at Mauna Lani in Hawaii and was advised by Tingo to book another week before cancelling the first. Nothing was available.

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