Sorry about the lack of posting, but I've been in Costa Rica on vacation. And vacation to me means no newspapers, no TV, and certainly no internet (I did break down for 20 minutes to save $25 on a hotel room). Since the trip was a surprise to my wife, I haven't been able to post some of the things I learned along the way.
1) Orbitz has become nearly scary in its car rental capability. In Costa Rica the base fee was about 40% of the cost due to mandatory insurance and several other fees. The Orbitz total price was pretty darn close. Oh, and if your car is newer than 1997 it uses "Super" (unleaded) instead of "Regular" (leaded). I suspect most catalytic converters are so fouled they no longer care.
2) Hampton Inn, like most hotels, still hasn't realized the internet exists. Trying to replace a phone reservation with an online one is nearly impossible. The system doesn't signal the overlap (same credit card, same hometown 2000 miles away, though name was misspelled) between reservations which would have allowed human knowledge to play a part (to combine with the fact that some guy insisted he had two reservations but we could only find one). Result was an empty room at 5 PM that they probably could have sold with notice. A fax to the hotel (how surprising numbers of online systems interact with individual hotels) just doesn't cut it.
3) I planned the trip only a month before leaving during a peak time (now known to me is that New England winter school vacation is pretty close to Thanksgiving for anywhere warm). The resort hotels with online visibility into their reservation systems were completely sold out (just a handful). Nicer hotels that responded via email the next day had limited availability. Hotels that took 3-4 days often had quite a bit of availability. A web site just doesn't cut it any more. (And most web forms were useless -- two hotels responding a week later mistook requests for availability as firm reservations since they provided no email addresses and forced the question into their form). Visibility into product availability in a tight market sells product. There is a clear opportunity to outsource this to India, providing 24-hour English and Spanish (and possibly other European languages) service, with a daily fax to the hotel showing availability for limited onsite bookings.
Visibility sells. More travel information to come later.