Imagine this scenario: You need a hotel in a city you aren’t familiar with. Maybe you’re particularly fond of a certain hotel chain. Are you booking directly with the hotel? If not, why not?
Perhaps you got sucked into those third-party online travel agency (OTA) sites like Expedia or Hotels.com and thought you’d get a better price or a better deal. Don’t feel bad—you’re one of the thousands of travelers who got pulled in by their slick ad campaigns.
We’re here to let you in on a secret: booking directly with a hotel is always the better option. The perks of dealing directly with the hotel far outweigh any “savings” you think you’re getting by booking with an OTA, despite what their ads may scream.
Here are five reasons why booking directly with a hotel should be your first choice.
While most people think they’re getting a great deal on a hotel with an OTA, these sites are actually not “discount sites.” Rate parity agreements between hotels and OTAs dictate that the price shown for a specific room must be the same no matter where it’s sold. This means that if you’re looking at a room on Hilton.com and Booking.com, the base rate for that room will be the same on both sites.
You may be asking yourself, “Then why do all the OTA ad campaigns claim to have the best prices?” Here’s the rub: they can all claim to have the “best” price because they all have the same price—because of the rate parity rules.
So how does booking direct get you better prices? The answer lies with loyalty rates. Many hotel brands offer discounted rates to members of their loyalty programs. These lower rates are allowed to bypass the price parity agreements because they are sold to “closed user groups.” This just means you must be a member of the program to snag these deals. Not to worry though, these programs are completely free to join and don’t obligate you to spend any money before you can take advantage of the lower rates.
One of the most common complaints we hear from people about OTAs is that the hotel can’t find their reservation once they arrive. Maybe that’s even happened to you. If not, imagine how infuriating that would be!
Unfortunately, this is not uncommon for travelers who book their reservations through OTA sites. By booking on a third-party site like Priceline or Travelocity, you’re not a customer of the hotel, you’re a customer of the OTA. Sometimes, everything goes smoothly and the OTA passes over all your information to the hotel. But what if something gets lost? It happens. Far too often.
Avoid taking this risk by booking your stay directly on the hotel’s own website. You’ll share your personal information and credit card details with the hotel only, and you’ll be sure your reservation won’t get lost.
We’ve all experienced hiccups in our travel plans that have resulted in delayed or even canceled trips. If you book through an OTA, you can forget about getting a refund for any un-stayed nights. Most of these booking sites have a no-refund policy, and they won’t let you cancel or modify your reservation if you have to.
When you book directly with the hotel, you’ll be treated with more flexibility and understanding. Delays and cancellations happen, and hotels know this. You won’t have to go through the hassle of dealing with hard-to-reach OTA customer service, and you’ll be able to reschedule or cancel your reservation quicker if you have a canceled flight or come down with the flu. If you can’t get the stay refunded, since you booked direct you’ll still have better leverage to negotiate trading in the canceled room for a future stay.
Hotel room assignments and special requests are prioritized for those who book directly. So, asking for a room on a higher floor or choosing one or two beds is easier to arrange this way. Alternatively, those who book through OTAs are more likely to get stuck with the “ice machine rooms.”
By booking on the hotel’s website, you have the opportunity to make special room requests when you book or once you arrive. Need to ensure your room has a minifridge? Just ask. Prefer a room far away from the elevator? Working directly with the hotel gives you the flexibility to ask for these types of requests and a greater likelihood that they’ll accommodate you.
Another booking direct perk is that you can choose additional services that go beyond free breakfast. Hotels are getting more selective with their WiFi service. Some will only grant free WiFi to guests who booked direct, while OTA bookers will have to pay a fee.
Bottom line: for the best room and the best service, book direct.
Want even better customer service? Join the hotel’s loyalty program. Hotels love their loyalty members, and they’ll let you know it. Upon check-in, many hotels will offer their loyalty guests free food and beverage credits. You’ll also be eligible for free room upgrades if the hotel isn’t sold out. Some hotels even have designated lounge areas for preferred guests with unlimited beverages and snacks. Who doesn’t like being “preferred!”
In addition, hotels offer loyalty bonuses and additional incentives for bookings made through the hotel’s website. With each stay, rack up points and redeem them for free stays on future trips.
And like we said before, loyalty members get access to the lowest hotel rates on the market. Knowing that, there’s really no reason not to sign up for one of these programs. Better yet, join them all! That way you’ll get the best rates no matter where you stay.
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