Free vs Paid Hotel Rate Shoppers: What does my hotel need?

Free vs Paid Hotel Rate Shoppers: What does my hotel need?

OTA-Insight-Rate-Parity-Revenue-Market-homeRate shoppers have become a necessary part of the toolset that all revenue managers equip themselves with to drive profitability, leading to a proliferation of tools that hoteliers can choose from. So the question is no longer if you need one - but how you can choose the best one (or, if you already have one, whether superior solutions exist). 

Considering there are both free and paid options with varying features and limitations, it can be difficult to determine what your hotel actually needs. Here we’ll discuss what the differences are so that you can choose the best rate shopper for your property.

First things first: What is a rate shopper?

For those of you who are completely new to the rate shopping game, it’s worth going over what a rate shopper is so that you understand what you’re looking for. 

A rate shopper is an analysis tool used by hotels to automate their rate comparison process, helping hoteliers make easier and quicker pricing decisions. True to its name, it shops rates, but the depth of the data is what makes it useful. It will allow you to shop rates in real-time, for you and your competitive set, across all relevant distribution channels. And, with the rise of alternative lodging, it's important that your rate shopper provides you with a holistic view of your market. 

Modern rate shoppers will also allow you to compare rates by room type, and forecast demand so that you can use this data to shape the elements of your pricing strategies.

What features should I look for in a hotel rate shopper?

It’s easy to become overwhelmed when comparing rate shopping tools, simply because so many exist. So when looking for a rate shopper, here are the key qualities to consider. They are the qualities we’ve kept in mind while building Rate Insight.

#1 Data quality

The data must be able to be delivered in real-time, meaning that you see the latest live rates. This ensures that you are responding to the latest information available, and not rate changes from over a week ago. It should also allow you to track how rates evolve leading up to a particular date of arrival, from as many sources as are available publicly online. 

In most cases, a free rate shopper will not provide live data, leaving you on the back foot, which is in turn, one of the key benefits of paying for a rate shopper.

By working with your data in real-time, you can assess how well your pricing strategies are paying off, in comparison with your competition. The image below is an example from Rate Insight. As you can see, you can track the rate evolution of the price of a room for a particular day that you’re planning for. As the day approaches, you can see how competitors’ prices go up or down and respond accordingly.


Equally important is the accuracy of your data. Ask yourself whether it will allow you to compare apples to apples (for example, by auto-detecting taxes across your channels so that you can compare tax-inclusive and tax-exclusive rates). 

Free rate shoppers only give limited data; for example, many well-known OTAs with free rate shoppers will only track rates on their own platform. Paid rate shoppers will allow you to shop rates across all of your online channels - including varying OTAs and metasearch sites.

It should also allow you to track different domains of the same booking channel, so you can compare specific source markets around the world.

Finally, your rate shopper should give you as much data as possible. This is where many free rate shoppers fall short, and where it’s worth investing in a paid tool. A free rate shopper would only offer very basic functionality.

To assess the completeness of your data, ask yourself: 

  • Can it help me monitor rate parity across channels (OTAs as well as wholesalers)?
  • Does it have an events database to help predict demand?
  • Can I create compsets based on season, proximity, or selected properties?
  • Can it shop for length of stay (LOS) pricing strategies?

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#2 Integrations

It wouldn’t be a modern rate shopper if it didn’t allow you to consolidate your data in other tools you may already be using, such as your revenue management system (RMS) or customer relationship management system (CRM). However, free rate shoppers do not tend to offer integrations into other systems, as these integrations are expensive to maintain.

Rate Insight also has a benchmarking integration to compare performance on key performance indicators (KPIs) like occupancy, revenue per available room (RevPAR) and average daily rate (ADR) indexes.

#3 Support

Rapid customer support is useful in resolving the occasional questions that you may have, and choosing a company with extensive support means that you can have any issues quickly resolved. Free rate shoppers will offer little to no support, which can result in untimely delays, especially if you are stuck waiting for an issue to be resolved.

(For a complete list of features to look for, read this post.)

How much will a rate shopper cost? 

As you may have gathered, free rate shoppers will often be very basic and have limited functionality. Paid software will be more flexible, offer customer support, and likely be full of features (with ongoing enhancements) that will help you generate revenue. 

As we touched upon briefly, there are also paid rate shoppers created by OTAs. While they may be cost-effective, they only track rates for that OTA’s range of websites. You will be better off using an agnostic tool that gives you a complete view of all your key channels so that you know that you are getting an accurate view of market demand at any one time.

Other cost factors that you may have to consider:

  • Setup and training
  • Support
  • Licence per user

Try to look for a vendor whose pricing is set at a competitive, fixed, monthly cost - it will ultimately be better for your cash flow. It’s also useful to look at comparison websites to verify ease of use and functionality, according to their existing customer base. 

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