I was looking for deals on hotels for a long weekend in May today, maybe the beach. I went to my standards, Orbitz and Travelocity, and probed for a while. A few good hotel ideas later (nothing booked), it was time to move on. As I was exiting, an interstitial caught my eye: away.com promised me the ability to "compare more sites with just one click." I have used Kayak.com, which does much the same thing, so I am familiar with the concept. But I responded to the ad because, simply stated, it was there and if it could scour many sites in a fraction of the time I just spent looking at two, I may just find something that I could book.
I clicked on the ad (despite what the nay-sayers report, ads clearly work) and was taken to Away.com. I quickly saw the "compare rates" section in the middle right of the page, ignoring the fact that it was not the key premise of the page and I actually had to look for it, contrary to the inherent promise of the interstitial. For our purpose, I entered "Chicago", a range of dates, and selected all of the available sites for Away.com to search for me.
Let's now revisit my motivation. An interstitial promised me its site would look at multiple sites for me in search of a "cheap hotel room". So the value to me is convenience in delivering a high value (read: frugal) outcome.
Having never used Away.com yet other aggregator sites, I had an expectation as to what I would be delivered: a page with a selection of hotels, pulled from the array of selected sites to crawl, with names, details, prices, etc., and the ability to link back to the site of origin if I was ready to book. Right or wrong, this was what I expected. Sadly, what I received resembled nothing of the sort.
This is what filled up my monitor after crawling the sites selected:
In addition to the Away.com page I started on, 7 new windows popped-up on my screen, each representing a site's search results based on the city and dates selected. This looks more like the pop-up zaniness one experiences when attempting to leave a porn site (from what I've read...) than the results of a travel fare comparison site branded under Orbitz.
Away.com caught my eye because its promise was in context (I was leaving Orbitz.com after searching for hotels and not booking) and looked to conveniently scour the web's top travel properties for me, searching for the elusive deal. There are two components of delivering upon this promise. The first, to crawl the other sites with the information given, it technically did. But the second, the real value of sites like this, is the presentation of the findings in a convenient, accessible manner. Think shopping.com, accuquote.com, and kayak.com. What you see above misses this goal entirely and now forces me to evaluate the offerings of each and every window, hoping to keep them straight in my own mind ("was that hotel with a balcony with Orbitz.com or was it in the Cheaptickets.com window?"). And as if I have to say this... wasn't the point of coming to Away.com exactly to avoid having to evaluate each and every option I can think of?
Pundits estimate that more than half of U.S. households book travel online and that the market size will be $146B next year. If a company hopes to compete for a slice of that pie, does one reasonably think that an experience like this will aid in its quest?
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