For one to be an aficionado of Apple’s line of computers, it might be fair to generalize that one is willing to spend more money than necessary for perceived superior form — as a device that carries the same function, just on the more common technology modeled after the IBM personal computer costs considerably less. Orbitz has measured this tendency. Mac users pay more for hotel rooms than travelers using Microsoft Windows, and in order to take advantage of that, Orbitz shows different results to shoppers depending on their computer technology according to the Wall Street Journal.
To clarify, Orbitz is not repricing the same rooms higher and showing different prices based on technology. The website is apparently showing different results, emphasizing the higher-priced rooms to Mac users, perhaps hiding some of the low-cost rooms that they predict Mac users would ignore anyway. If Orbitz has found that Mac users almost always ignore Howard Johnson in favor of Hilton or Wyndham, showing options for lodging at Howard Johnson in the search results just creates an obstacle in presenting the information most relevant to the user.
I’ve never used Orbitz to find a hotel room — call me old-fashioned. I usually use Google Maps, visit the websites for hotels in which I’d consider staying, read reviews of that location on Travelocity, which seems to have the most comprehensive reviews, and use the hotel’s own website or call to make the reservation. Although I generally ignore one- or two-star hotels today, that was not always the case. When I didn’t have as much cash available for vacations or travel, I would stay in Motel 6 or an equivalent hotel when unable to stay with friends or family. I just looked for the cheapest option that didn’t involve camping.
The discovery that Mac users see filtered results is not too much of a big deal. I would have liked to see the filter as an option available to everyone. The option to ignore “budget” hotels should be a switch one can turn on or off regardless of technology used to visit Orbitz. I’m not sure if the algorithm is as simple as filtering out one- or two-star hotels, but if it is, that’s simple enough to replicate for Windows users or to include all results for Mac users. But it doesn’t seem to be that simple. The default setting for search results is to sort by “Best Value,” which is some kind of algorithm that adjusts which results are shown first. A search for hotel rooms Gaithersburg, Maryland presents the best value for me as being Wyndham Garden Gaithersburg at $117 a night, a three-star hotel. This might be listed first because it is located more conveniently than all other options, but my third result is a four-star hotel, Crowne Plaza, for only $90 a night. I’m not sure why Orbitz would consider the Wyndham a better value than the Crowne Plaza, but Mac users might see these results differently and might be unable to replicate the result order.
I performed the same search on my iPad, and the results were wildly different. The first result was a sponsored listing from La Quinta, without a price listed. The next listing was the Gaithersburg Marriott for $149 a night. So the first price listed for my search with an iPad was $32 a night more expensive than the first result when searching with my Windows computer.
Search engines like Orbitz are not neutral parties just delivering facts. They are salespeople intent on making the most money by providing hotel listings designed in such a way to get customers to spend as much as possible. The advice should be obvious.
- More than ever, it’s important to shop around.
- Don’t limit your search to one aggregation website.
- Once you select a hotel, always call before booking online to ensure you’re getting the lowest price possible.
- Check Google Maps to make sure you haven’t overlooked a possibility excluded from aggregation websites.
What do you think about Orbitz prioritizing more expensive hotels in search results just for using an Apple device?
Published or updated June 26, 2012.