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January 20, 2005

Travel Search Engine Shootout - Las Vegas Strip Hotels

Travel search engines sure have been noisy lately. assembled a "Dream Team" of Internet travel. Mobissimo launched the "Ultimate" online travel resource. SideStep claimed over seven million downloads.

Recent Travel Search News

Sept 21 - SideStep Reaches 7 Million Downloads
Oct. 7 - Travel "Dream Team"Releases
Nov. 12, - AOL and multiyear agreement
Nov. 16. - Mobissimo marked its official launch
Dec. 21, - secures $7 million financing
Jan. 5, 05 - SideStep Launches Web Version

Seven million downloads? Where was I? Admittedly, I had spent more time on the general shopping engines than the travel search engines in 2004, and I did not want to start researching travel until I had the time to do it right. But the growing list of recent news (right) tells me the time for excuses is over, and the time for nitty-gritty analysis is upon us.

Sounds like a great opportunity to research a trip to Las Vegas...

Travel Search Engine Shootout - Las Vegas Strip Hotels

I started with this map of the Las Vegas strip at, subtracted a few clunky sites, and ended up with a list of thirty hotels. Next, I searched for these hotels on eight travel aggregators, plus each of the official hotel sites. Finally, I took all of the rates (before additional tax & fee line-items) and summarized them in the table below, using all sorts of icons, explained in the legend below.

The purpose is not to say that one travel search engine is better than the rest, merely to get an overview of the travel search landscape. Are the new travel search engines more comprehensive than the existing travel aggregator sites? Do the official sites always offer the best rates? And what does this all mean in terms of the actual process used to book a hotel? The results:

Las Vegas Hotels: 4/21/2005 to 4/24/2005 (Searched: 1/18/2005)

supplemental listings
26 25 25 24 21 20 16 8 30
supplemental listings
29 29 25 28 21 23 16 8 30
Aladdin $467, from $467 $467 $467 $467 $468 $468, by Orbitz by $467
Bally's $527, by $527 $530 $527   $530 $531, by Orbitz   $527
Bellagio $860, by $860 $857 $857 $857 $855 $855, by Orbitz   $857
Caesar's Palace $723, by $725 $717 $723 $720 $726 $726, by Orbitz   $720
Circus Circus by $317 $332 $327 $315 by Orbitz by $302
Excalibur $471, by $471 $497 (3)   $468 $468, by Orbitz   $440
Flamingo Hilton $490, by $490 $490 $490   $490 $489, by Orbitz   $470
Four Seasons (1) (2)   (3)         $1175
Hard Rock $550, by $897 $679 $550 $827       $857
Harrah's $575, by (2) $555 $550 $575     by and $575
Imperial Palace $426, by $431 $423 $471   (4)     $388
Las Vegas Hilton $460, by $460 $507 $530   $479 $480, by Orbitz   $457
Luxor $527, by $527   (3) $527 $535 $534, by Orbitz   $497
Mandalay Bay   $746     $927       $727
MGM Grand $581, by $581 $575 $589   $569     $599
Mirage, The (1) $7811 $717 $717 $717 $715     $717
Monte Carlo $638, $638   (3) $623 $639 $639, by Orbitz by $607
New York, NY $546, by $546 $508 $510 $510 $500 $510, by Orbitz   $510
Palace Station $240, by $263 $253 $240 $240       $290
Palms, The $759, by $759 $787 $880 $759 $947   by $947
Paris $637, by $637 $637 $637   $640 $639, by Orbitz   $637
Rio $813, by $813 $857 $836 $813 $812 $813, by Orbitz by and $770
Riviera $270, by (2) $285 $282 $269 $285 $285, by Orbitz by $312
Sahara $234, by $247 $253 $234 $247 (4)     $340
San Remo $341, by $359 $354 $341   $367     $327
Stardust $340, by   $373 $334 $245       $259
Stratosphere $233, by $244 $277 $233 $415 (4)     $400
Treasure Island $499, by $499 $499 $509 $527 $497 $498, by Orbitz   $497
Tropicana $499, by $499 $505 $541 $480     by $428
Venetian, The (1) (2)     $747 $750 $990, by Orbitz   $717


the official site
not applicable
savings > $5
plus/minus $5
overage > $5
(1) these listings did not appear in the initial search of SideStep, but they came up for specific search of the hotel names.
(2) these listings did not include pricing for the initial search of Travelocity, only a link to check rates and availability.
1/19/2005 Update - detailed pricing now appears on the initial search for Harrah's and the Venetian, and a price range now appears for the Riviera. Did the system "learn" and update itselft?
Disclaimer (3) these listings occur below the "red line" in the search of, and do not fit in with the primary listings.
I have tried my best to make sure all comparisons were apples vs. apples, but due to nature and amount of data involved, there are no gurantees. (4) these listings did not include pricing for the initial search of Orbitz, only a link to check rates and availability.
(note) Mobissimo's pricing lacked line-item detail necessary for an apples vs. apples comparison.
(note) FareChase was tested, but of our list of thirty hotels, it only found the Las Vegas Hilton.

A Brief Summary of the Hotel Search Engines

In this test, SideStep was far more comprehensive than newcomers and Mobissimo. The former only included incomplete listings from Orbitz, and the latter included incomplete listings from, plus a few other listings. Granted, is still in beta, and Mobissimo still has a "new" tag by the hotel search, so I'll have to keep tabs on them for future developments.

Most of the established travel aggregators returned enough results to be practically interchangeable. After all, what good is another listing or two if they are not remarkable in some way? What is interesting is how the leading travel sites are so different in the amenities availalable for advanced searching. I have documented these differences on the Hotels page of at Organized Shopping.

Does This Change The Way I Shop For Hotels?

Like I tell people who spend to much time looking at logfiles, avoid analysis unless it is likely to be actionable. Along those lines, I have clarified, and in one case refined, my process for searching hotels, as detailed below:

(1) Planning: Define what I am looking for in a hotel: location, amenities, price range. I prefer to define the goals upfront, then look for the right tool(s) for the job, instead of pre-selecting one tool and letting its limitation define my expectations.

(2) Searching: Go to the Hotels page of Organized Shopping, look at the comparison chart, see which sites allow me to search based on my most-wanted amenities, if applicable. This is new, because the hotel page was only updated while researching this post.

(3) Reviewing: Use these site(s) to arrive at a short list of candidates. Scan a few sites that aggregate hotel reviews to confirm my choice or raise red flags. Further refine my list to one candidate, or a small handful of hotels that are essentially interchangeable.

(4) Pricing: Check the prices at the official hotel site(s), and at least one aggregator, probably SideStep and maybe Expedia or Orbitz. Many hotels offer the best rates on their own sites, but sometimes you will find the best rate at the aggregators. Bottom line, no one site has the best price every time.

Future Travel Search Shootouts and Upgrades

I'm planning to do more types of travel shopping comparisons in the near future, including some commodity-driven searches (i.e. airfare) that could have narrowly-defined objectives and a single winner. I'll also be looking to upgrade the travel-related pages at Organized Shopping in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. As always, if you know of a uniquely useful shopping resource, or in this case a uniquely useful travel resource, please let me know. Thanks!

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Posted by Sean O'Rourke on January 20, 2005 at 11:22 AM
Archived at Travel

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