June 26, 2012 -- Travelers who use Orbitz may want to pay attention to what computer they're on when it comes time to book a vacation, particularly if they're the type who wants a cheap hotel. The Wall Street Journal reported that the online travel agency has been experimenting with showing Mac users higher-priced hotels than it shows PC users.
To be clear, Orbitz is not charging Mac and PC users different prices for the same hotels. Instead, the first lodging options a Mac user sees after a hotel search may be pricier than those seen by a PC user.
In a statement to ABC News, Orbitz Worldwide CEO Barney Harford said that the notion that the company would charge more for the same hotel based on a computer model is "nonsense." He said readers of the Wall Street Journal's "subscriber content preview" may be getting an incorrect impression.
"Just as Mac users are willing to pay more for higher-end computers, at Orbitz we've seen that Mac users are 40 percent more likely to book four- or five-star hotels ... compared to PC users, and that's just one of many factors that determine which hotels to recommend a given customer as part of our efforts to show customers the most relevant hotels possible.
"Unfortunately, WSJ editors have chosen to hide the full story behind their pay wall, so most of the world is reacting to a confusing headline," said Harford.
What Orbitz says it's doing -- trying to show potential customers what they believe will be most relevant to them -- may just be good business. Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare, told "Good Morning America," "If you're the kind of person who likes to pay for premium things, certainly, if I'm Orbitz, I want to offer you those things first."
In addition to booking higher-star hotels, Orbitz says its data show that Mac users spend as much as 30 percent more on hotels than PC users do. When they do book the same hotel as PC users, they were more likely to stay in a more expensive room.
IPhone and iPad users spend 17 percent more on mobile purchases than everyone else, according to Forrester Research. And given that a Mac is about three times more expensive than its Windows counterpart, it's not surprising that an online retailer would want to try to figure out what those customers like and offer them those options first.
"They're all fighting over every last dollar you spend, and looking for anything that can give them an advantage," Hillary Mendelsohn, an online shopping expert, told "Good Morning America."
The online travel industry is a fractured one, with new competitors entering the market constantly. Most online agencies stopped charging fees for booking airfare in the past few years, leaving hotels and vacation packages as the big moneymakers. Understanding what customers want, and delivering it to them in the initial search results rather than making them scroll through options that don't interest them, is crucial to getting people to book.
"Online shopping is still the way of the future, but it has to be fair," said Mendelsohn.
Orbitz and its competitors do allow users to search by price. Mac users not pleased with what's being shown to them after an initial search may want to try that option.