Have you ever taken a vacation that went exactly as planned? Not likely. Throw kids into the mix and your chances of an “exactly as planned” vacation plummet. Life happens. We understand. Even better, we’re here to help.
We know that there are a hundred different reasons you may need to cancel a hotel reservation. We also know that online travel agencies (OTAs) like Booking.com and Travelocity aren’t especially keen to make it easy for you.
Booking a hotel room should be a breeze—and hopefully it was—but what happens if you need to make an unexpected cancellation? It’s only then that you learn from the OTA that you didn’t read the fine print, and you booked a non-refundable room. Now you’re out of luck.
Beware of OTA Cancellation Policies
OTAs are notorious for having rigid cancellation policies and charging fees for rescheduling or canceling hotel reservations. They want to ensure that they receive their commission for selling you that hotel room, so they’re going to make it as hard as possible for you to cancel, or make you pay a hefty sum if you do.
The OTAs don’t exactly revolve around clarity either. For example, you may find a great rate that’s promoted with “free cancellation” on the initial search results screen. Once you click on the rate, you see that the great nightly rate you saw is non-refundable. Wait, what?! Yep, we don’t get it either.
In this example, Expedia entices you with “Free Cancellation” right from the beginning, but once you click through for more details, you find out that you’ll only receive that free cancellation if you cancel before specific dates.
If you don’t, you’ll be charged a cancellation fee equal to 100% of the amount you paid for that reservation. That’s a ripoff! They’ll claim that this was all explained to you when you booked, but of course you have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the booking page to find that information. We don’t think that’s very transparent.
This is just one example of an OTAs using confusing language to make you think you’re getting a great deal and get you to book sooner (you can read more about that here).
No one wants or intends to cancel a hotel room, but it happens. So, be prepared. Understand cancellation policies before you click to buy and, most importantly, check to see if your room rate is non-refundable or not.
But Wait, It Gets Worse
OTA cancellation policies are not always the same as the cancellation policies of the hotel chain or even the individual property. There may even be a cancellation policy unique to a particular type of booking, like if it’s included in a package deal or not.
Worse, even if the booking site says it’s as simple as one click to cancel, it’s usually not. You may incur an additional cancellation penalty or be forced to call a dreaded 1-800 number to make the cancellation. If you book through an OTA and try to call the hotel to change or cancel your reservation, the hotel will be forced to send you right back to the OTA since your reservation was made with them (and not directly with the hotel,) so they’re not able to help you or issue a refund.
As many as one in five online hotel bookings are canceled. Unfortunately, the OTAs are keenly aware of this statistic. They want to do whatever it takes to get you to book now and, better yet (for them), book the non-refundable rate.
What Can Be Done About This?
In December of 2018, the UK banned booking sites from using deceptive practices that push travelers to book before they’re ready. This followed an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority, a consumer protection organization based in London. The group also cited concerns about disingenuous discount claims and biased search order. We were thrilled to see the UK take this stance and finally shed some light on these unfair practices. However, we unfortunately still see them happening.
Why It Pays to Book Direct
The best thing you can do to protect yourself against the confusion and sales tricks of OTA sites is to book directly with the hotel. When you book direct, you’re generally presented with more flexible cancellation and modification policies, making for a better overall experience when you need to change an existing reservation.
Keep in mind that most hotels sell flexible rates as well as prepaid rates (sometimes called “advance purchase rates”) for each room. Prepaid rates are sold at a discount and will save you money on your hotel stay; just be aware that they are usually non-refundable. Some travelers are willing to trade their ability to cancel for the discounted advance purchase rate; but if you’re worried about losing your ability to cancel, it’s best to pay the extra few dollars and book the standard hotel rate that comes with flexible cancelation.
Even better, many times hotels will reward you for booking directly with them as well. How so? Just search for a room directly on a hotel website or on Roomkey.com and allow your eyes to be guided to the lower “member rate.” These rates are available only to those who join the free hotel rewards program and are lower than any rate you’ll find on an OTA site for that same hotel. Other than the hotel sites themselves, Roomkey is the only hotel search site with access to these rates.
We’re All About Helping You Find the Best Room for You
With Roomkey, you’re not forced to navigate ambiguous waters. When you search for a hotel in your desired destination, hotels appear in the search results by distance from center city. From there, you can choose to re-sort by “lowest rate” or “highest rate.” No biased search order on our watch.
We also won’t scare you with “pressure selling” tactics. That’s why the mega booking sites, like Booking.com and Expedia, are called just that: booking sites. Their singular goal is to get you to book a room, whether it’s the right fit for you or not.
Instead, we’re a hotel search site. Once you find the hotel you want, we take you right to that hotel’s site to complete your booking. No misleading sales gimmicks or ploys to get you to book right now. We’re owned by the hotels themselves, so we provide you with information that’s straight from the source to help you make informed decisions and book the right hotel for you and your family (and even cancel, if you need to do so). Go on, give us a try.