What You Should Know About Hotel Room Inventory

hotel room with tray with fruit on it_hotel room inventoryThere are a lot of myths about how to book travel in the best, most cost-effective, and most efficient way. But how many of those myths are founded in real industry knowledge, and how many are one-off anecdotes that have morphed into old wives’ tales? We wanted to get to the bottom of it, so we sat down with our CEO, Steve Sickel, to do just that.

Steve was an executive at IHG before joining us here at Roomkey, so it’s safe to say he knows the hotel industry pretty well. We asked him how hotel room inventory really works and how to use that information when booking hotel rooms. He gave us the behind-the-scenes scoop. With his insight, we’re going to unpack some common myths about hotel inventory and lay out the way to get the best hotel room every time.


When a hotel is listed as “sold out” on an online travel agency (OTA) site like Expedia or Booking.com, you should just find another option because that hotel is no longer available for your travel dates. Yep, that’s false. Here’s the truth…


OTAs don’t have access to all the rooms in a hotel, so when they say “sold out,” the hotel might not actually be sold out at all.

OTAs are allotted a certain number of a hotel’s rooms that they’re able to sell. Whether those rooms are sold out has nothing to do with the overall inventory of the hotel. It happens this way because hotels don’t want to sell all their rooms through third parties. OTAs charge hotels a high commission rate, so they can’t afford to sell all their rooms through these sites.

Despite this, OTAs will show a hotel as “sold out” when they run out their allotted inventory because they want to hold onto your business and push you to book with another hotel through them. This is deceptive and more than a little confusing to travelers because if you check with the hotel itself, they might still have rooms available. In general, OTAs don’t have all the information that the hotel has, even if they want you to think they do. It’s a good rule of thumb to call the hotel either way. The hotel workers at the front desk might know something that hasn’t trickled out to the public yet.


You can book just as nice a room through an OTA as you can booking directly with the hotel. Also false. Here’s why…


This isn’t the case every time or with every hotel, but hotels often save their best rooms for customers who book direct.

Even if it might seem that all of the rooms are identical, every room in a hotel isn’t exactly the same. There are rooms awaiting renovation, or don’t have as great a view, or have slightly less space.

Hotel general managers often allocate these less attractive rooms to customers who book through third parties because they’re less concerned about preserving the relationship. They assume those customers are more likely to be loyal to the third party they booked through rather than to the hotel brand itself. The hotel is also making somewhere around 15% less on rooms booked through third parties as they are on rooms booked directly. They’re more likely to go out of their way to please the customers who are more profitable to them.


You should wait to book last minute for the best deals. There are some people that would disagree with us, but here’s the skinny from the industry experts…


Hotel fares and inventory are structured to benefit the customer who books the earliest.

It’s almost always cheaper, and you’ll always have more options when it comes to room type. The hotel wants you to book earlier, so they often have early bird deals or other fares that reward the traveler who plans ahead. You might find some deals by waiting until the last minute, but those deals might not be cheaper than the rates that the rooms sold for a month before. In general, it’s more likely that you would wind up facing a sold-out hotel with no options than scoring a last-minute dip in fares or a sale. Read more about this debate here, Pros and Cons of Booking Hotels and Flights Last Minute.


It doesn’t really matter what site you book your hotel through—you’ll still get the same experience. Nope. Here’s why…


Booking directly with the hotel is always the better option. In addition to possibly getting a better room by booking direct (see above), you’ll also get the advantage of working straight with the hotel, not with a middle man, which gives you a better customer experience. But what if you like the convenience of searching multiple hotel chains at once like on an OTA site? We suggest you try Roomkey. Roomkey gives you the best of both worlds: the convenience of a multi-brand search with the security of booking direct. On Roomkey, once you’ve found a hotel you like, we’ll send you straight to the hotel’s site to complete your booking.

There’s another reason to give Roomkey a try: better prices. Searching on Roomkey will show you the regular hotel rates as well as discounted rates that are available to members of select hotel loyalty programs. These rates are almost always cheaper than the rates that you’ll find on OTA sites.

There are certain things Roomkey isn’t the best for, however… If you’re the kind of traveler who wants to book your airfare, hotel stay, and rental car all in the same place at the same time, we probably aren’t the best fit for you.

But for customers who like branded hotels, who enjoy knowing what to expect out of their hotel stay and getting the highest level of customer service every time, Roomkey is your best option for a great deal and great customer service.