Travelocity is taking on Priceline and Hotwire in the opaque-pricing market with their “Top Secret Hotels“service.

“Top Secret Hotel” sounds intriguing.  We love to think, it is a piece of Paradise, reserved just for us and kept secret from the rest of the world. Because it’s this good. We don’t like to think, it is a slice of Hell, saved just to punish us for being cheap and kept secret from the rest of the world. Because it’s this bad. If the secret is revealed to the authorities, the hotel will become a CSI location, a horror stories cradle, and will never serve as travel accommodation again.

But in reality, the “Top Secret” is a legit hotel, commonly known to the world and kept secret just from you. Because it’s this cheap. If the identity of the property is revealed to you, you may not be willing to pay even the profoundly reduced price.

Secret accommodations work best for adventurous people, who like surprises.  Precautious travelers trade the uncertainty for the discounted room rate, and start regretting the barter immediately after completing the non-refundable transaction. But the adventure-seekers actually enjoy the ‘uncertainty’ part. Unpredictability means excitement. Think positive. The secret residence can turn out more than worthy of your money.

Cheap is not necessarily bad. It is just basic. And what are our basic needs? A bed (preferably without bed-bugs), sheets (preferably clean), shower (preferably hot) and storage for our belongings (preferably safe). The true basics are sited somewhere between the shared bathrooms-and-showers outside the room (that is too basic) and preferably-working-TVs plus preferably-fast-Internet (that is basic deluxe). Spa salons and on-site escort service are not included in Basic.

With Secret Hotels we can’t be sure that our budget residence will satisfy our basic needs, which makes us scared and stimulates our imagination, both hopeful-wishful and horrifying-depressive.

But even when we see the list of hotel’s amenities, does it really make us confident about our temporary lodging? Are we sure, we can understand the hotel-marketing jargon? For example, what is “secluded hideaway?” Is it a shelter for convicts-on-the-run?  Or an out-of-the-way shed, an hour away from the nearest McDonalds? We wish we had some kind of glossary, making it clear that:

‘Secluded Hideaway’          means             ‘a place, impossible to find or get to’, and

‘Majestic Setting’                 means             ‘a long way from town’, and

‘No Extra fees’                      is in fact          ‘no extras’,

‘Tropical’                                  is                 ‘rainy’

‘Cozy’                                      is                 ‘small’

‘Deluxe room’                            -                ‘a free shower cap’,

‘Superior room’                          -                 ‘two free shower caps’,

‘Light and Airy’                          -                 ‘no air conditioning’,

‘Old World Charm’                     -                 ‘no bath’,

‘Open Bar’                                 -                ‘free ice cubes’,

‘Continental Breakfast’                -                ‘free muffin’.

So, either top secret or honest straight-forward advertising, we don’t know exactly what to expect until we get to the hotel. There is always an element of surprise. Which is good. Or bad. Like, flowers-on-the-nightstand good. Or dead-rat-in-a-safe bad. In any case, it’s some experience.

We can only hope, it will be nice. Worth staying there. Worth stealing. It does not mean that you will necessarily steal. It means that it should have stuff appealing enough to want to have. Like a souvenir. You know, a shower cap, included in Deluxe accommodation, is legally yours. And these nice toiletries are for you to keep. But for some reason hotels bring out the larceny in us. It is a common confusion about the stuff included in the room rate. While we are certain of the shower caps and q-tips, what about towels, robes and slippers? If hotels put their names on this stuff, they probably intend to use it for advertising. Free robe for you - free advertising for the hotel. Right?  Kind of questionable. Some thrifty travelers are trying to take home more dubious hotel memorabilia, like hair-dryers, coffee makers, TVs, mini-bars, even pieces of carpet, carefully cut out from under the bed (to use as a throw rug). Like a souvenir.

We need good memories of the hotel. While our stay is temporary, the memories are forever. And our expectations of hotel are in fact expectations of good memories. Even if it is just a place to sleep. And especially if it becomes the solitary location of our entire trip due to never-ending rain outside or never-ending diarrhea inside. Still memories.

And whether you stay in New-York’s Four Seasons, or in a hostel in Amsterdam, or in a tent in Tanzania, - your best memories will be of the people you’ve met there. Other travelers, locals, and the hotel employees.

You will never forget, how you got totally lost after driving for hours, and a hotel clerk stayed on the phone with you for forty minutes, directing you through interchanges, roundabouts and detours, until you finally entered the hotel and said Hello to your volunteer guide. You will always remember how you arrived to the hotel in the middle of the night, tired and hungry, and someone re-opened the kitchen and fixed you a sandwich. People are what we remember. Neither Top Secret Hotel deals, nor open advertisement can give us a guarantee of meeting someone memorable. We can only hope.