Raise your hand if you find that one of the biggest hassles of travel is the planning process. Coordinating the flight, the hotel, the rental car, and the activities can be a huge time suck—which is why people gravitate to using third party booking sites when they plan their itineraries. But do online travel agencies (OTAs) like Booking.com and Travelocity actually save you time and money? Are the promised “best price” claims and curated search results actually working to your benefit.
Unfortunately, they’re not. Some OTAs are infamous for using aggressive sales tactics, confusing messaging, and false information to urge you to book your travel on their site. It’s pushy, it’s sketchy, and we think it’s downright unfair for travelers. Instead, we want travelers to make informed choices when planning their vacations. You shouldn’t have to worry about whether you’re being ripped off by the OTA or not, and you shouldn’t risk losing your reservation with the hotel.
So, we’re revealing the biggest tricks that OTAs use to try to get your money. Armed with this knowledge, you won’t fall prey to their gimmicks ever again.
The Tricks: Common Travel Scams and Deceptive Offers
If you’ve ever bought into the anxiety-inducing sales tactics often used by OTAs, you’re not alone. Sites like Hotels.com, Expedia, and Kayak may be full of marketing scams aimed at convincing you to book with them. Here are some of the most common gimmicks.
1. “3 Other People Looked at this Hotel in the Last Hour”
There’s nothing like FOMO (the fear of missing out) to make you rush to make a purchase before you’re ready. OTAs like to tell you that other people are looking at that same hotel to make you worry that if you don’t book it you’ll lose it. Cue the race to book the room first! After all, you don’t want to miss out. But next time you see this scam, slow your roll and remember there aren’t necessarily that many people looking at that hotel for your exact dates—if anyone is looking at all.
2. “Only 6 Rooms Left!”
This scam is such a stretch of the truth it’s almost comical. When an OTA site tells you there are only a certain number of rooms left, they want you to think those are the only rooms left in the entire hotel. But what they really mean is they (the OTA) only have six rooms left to sell; the hotel itself could actually have plenty of rooms left if you booked on their own website. Booking direct will always increase your chances of securing a room when the hotel might look “sold out” on other sites. So don’t worry about how many rooms are left on the OTA site… the hotel can tell you what’s really available.
3. “Booked 4 Hours Ago”
Here’s another one where the OTA is playing with your FOMO. Hearing that someone booked the hotel you’re looking at can make you worry that the hotel will sell out soon. But even if that’s true, whoever said that this person booked the hotel for your stay dates? Oh man, that’s sneaky. But even if they did book for your same dates, remember what you learned in #2 above (it might not be actually sold out.)
4. Claims About Rates and Pricing
When OTAs were gaining popularity, they won the hearts of many by marketing themselves as discount sites and promising you the “best rates.” They technically weren’t lying, but what they didn’t want you to know is that every other OTA also had those same “best rates.” So, it was the “best” simply because there wasn’t a better one available—because everyone had the same price. This is still the case today.
Price parity agreements exist between hotels and OTAs to hold everyone accountable with their rates. These contracts state that the room rate must be the same no matter where it’s sold. This keeps one site from being able to undercut the prices to steal all the bookings. However, there is an exception to this rule that works in your favor, and the answer lies with loyalty rates. These discounted rates bypass the price parity agreement because they are sold to “closed user groups” (AKA the hotel’s loyalty program members). Become one of those members, and you’ll be able to snag a rate that is actually lower than the claimed “best rate.”
5. Biased Search Results
We’ve been trained by sites like Google to expect that the most authoritative sources appear at the top of searches. This mindset causes the average consumer to assume that OTAs follow similar algorithms and principles. Guess what? They don’t. OTAs are profit-driven and many of them choose to show you hotels that make them the most money first.
We call this “biased search order,” and what that means for you is that your favorite hotel chain might not show up on the first page of search results—or second, or third. Independent hotels who have to pay OTAs higher commissions get listed first, while reputable names like Marriotts and Hiltons, for example, get pushed down the page. Essentially, some OTAs are altering their search results to urge you to book hotels that make them the most money. Don’t let them play you like that.
In 2016, Expedia was even accused of deliberately removing photos of some hotels from their listings to make them look less attractive and therefore discourage booking for that property. This is called “dimming,” and they even admitted to it. Expedia later announced that they were discontinuing this practice suspiciously soon after it gained publicity. Even though Expedia put an end to this particular example of search-result bias, it makes us wonder: What else are they doing that we just haven’t noticed yet?
The Truth: Roomkey Has Your Back
Our founding fathers took a look at these sneaky sales practices and decided that they’d had enough. We believe you should feel confident in your booking decisions, so we created a place for you to search for your favorite hotels in peace. At Roomkey, we will never try to scam you with false urgency messaging or altered search results. We don’t tack on sales tax or hidden fees at the very end of the booking process. Instead, we show you the full rate up front and then escort you to the hotel’s website to book your stay. This cuts out the middleman, making your booking process seamless and secure.
Our goal is to give you a stress-free search experience that empowers your hotel booking decisions. At Roomkey, we’re all about providing “No tricks. Just travel.” When you’re ready to book your next vacation, come to us. We’re ready to help.
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