A consumer alert for all of us who book vacations online: Are the prices at hotels fixed so you pay more and don't get a deal? TODAY National Investigative Correspondent Jeff Rossen looked into it.
More from TODAY.com
Hillary Clinton: Granddaughter led me 'to speed up' political plans
- Lauren Hill, inspirational college basketball player, dies
- Marathon dad's victories help raise money for son with spina bifida
- Will it work on Vale? Savannah tries tissue sleeping trick at home
- Listen to the chilling 911 call Sandra Bullock made during break-in
- Hillary Clinton: Granddaughter led me 'to speed up' political plans
We all want a great deal. So when you're booking a trip, you go online and shop around for the best price: Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz. But now, big accusations of price-fixing — that the travel websites and hotel chains are scheming together so you don't get a deal, no matter how hard you look.
The commercials are convincing: Use our website and you'll get the best deal out there. From the Travelocity guarantee to Expedia's "best price" and the Orbitz "hot hotel deals."
But a new lawsuit claims you're wasting your time, accusing the biggest travel sites of conspiring with the nation's most popular hotel chains to fix the prices of rooms so you can't get a lower rate online. Attorney Steve Berman filed the suit on behalf of customers.
"This is the industry's dirty little secret," Berman said. "They're not offering the lowest price or the best price, they're offering a fixed higher price."Story: Rossen Reports: Are you getting what you pay for at the pump?
The lawsuit claims it's an "anti-competitive scheme": Instead of these sites having price wars, which is good for the consumer, they've all agreed to sell rooms at the same price. That way, the sites don't undercut each other, and they all profit.
"The winner here are the Internet travel companies, and the losers are consumers," Berman said.Story: Rossen Reports: Are top websites in business with counterfeiters?
To see for ourselves, we looked up rates for a refundable king room at a San Diego hotel. On five different sites — Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Booking.com and Hotels.com — we got the same price: $189.
More Rossen Reports
"The fact is that a consumer is led to believe that if he or she looks through a whole bunch of websites, you're gonna find the best deal," said Mark Orwoll of Travel + Leisure magazine. "The fact is, that's a sham because there is really no best deal. It's all the SAME deal."Video: Are travel websites and hotels fixing prices? (on this page)
The hotel chains deny breaking the law and say they'll fight the suit, as does Orbitz, which says the case misrepresents how hotel reservations are marketed online. Travelocity denies any anti-competitive behavior. The others declined to comment or did not return our calls.
"The effect on consumers is they're being deceived, and they're overpaying on their hotel rooms," Berman said.
The lawsuit demands money back for customers, and a stop to the alleged price-fixing. In the meantime, experts say, before you book online, call the hotel itself. Tell them, "Hey, this is the lowest rate I'm finding — can you do better?" Sometimes, over the phone, they will.
To read statements from several companies in response to this report, click here .
Have an idea for a future edition of Rossen Reports? We want to hear from you! To send us your ideas, click here.
© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints