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Tingo throws hat into the hotel booking game

Courtesy Tingo

Tingo is a new hotel booking service similar to Hotels.com and Expedia, but offers a "Money Back" feature that could save travelers some cash.

A new service just entered the hotel booking market, and Tingo is its name-o.

Tingo offers hotel room inventory just like well-established players such as Expedia.com and Hotels.com. It differs, however, with its "Money Back" program that rebooks a traveler's reservation whenever the room price drops. Basically, users set a minimum dollars-saved value, starting at $1. Each time a hotel rate drops by that amount — up to 24 hours before check-in — Tingo changes the reservation and sends the traveler a notification e-mail. Hotels that offer non-refundable room rates are not included in Tingo's Money Back program.

Last month, hotel rates dropped by an average of $46 at 218 hotels in New York City, and the cost of a two-night stay at the Wynn, Las Vegas on Jan. 27 dropped $519 by check-in on Feb. 23, according to data crunched by Tingo.

Tingo bills itself as "the only site that automatically rebooks you at the lower rate if your hotel drops its price." However, online booking agents, such as Yapta, and attentive travel agents also monitor hotel prices after a reservation is made.

"Knowing that hotels often do drop rates, I like it," said Tom Botts, managing partner of Hudson Crossing, a travel industry advisory firm. "This isn't a real meta-search like Room 77, which searches lots of websites to find the best price. So the question is, are these the best rates to start with?"

"Given that major companies such as Orbitz already offer price assurance programs, I'm a little skeptical that this can be enough of a premise for travelers to remember a new brand," said Carroll Rheem, research director at PhoCusWright.

Tingo does not apply discounts available for bereavement "or for reasons of age, disability, military or clergy membership," according to its website. Furthermore, promotions from AAA and other third parties cannot be applied.

"The lack of AAA and similar rates will reduce Tingo's appeal but it is not a fatal flaw," said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst with Atmosphere Research Group.

Harteveldt warns that if Tingo and similar sites, such as Guestmob and Backbid, undercut hotel rates, travelers might get hit with unintended consequences. "The risk is that if too many people take advantage of this, hotels will simply jack up their published prices and travelers will get artificial discounts."

And sometimes the lowest price may not be a traveler’s top concern. "Customers have come to expect variation in pricing," said Katie Davin, an associate professor and director of hospitality education for Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. "Most customers are fine with it as long as they perceive that it is fair."

Tingo was officially unveiled on March 21 after launching in beta mode in February. The site was developed by Smarter Travel Media LLC, a subsidiary of TripAdvisor. 

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