Today, I want to explain why you should try to book a hotel directly, instead of using a third-party online service such as Hotels.com or Expedia.
Third-party websites like Expedia, Travelocity and the like can be great tip sheets, to show you how much you can expect to pay for a hotel when you get there. There’s a newly trendy website, Trivago, in fact, that will show you all those rates at one glance.
But I use them only to give me an idea of what types of rates are being offered.
Then, I pick a hotel that looks good, go online to the hotel chain’s website and find out what their lowest advertised rate is.
Never miss a local story.
After this, I call up the local hotel reservation desk directly — not the national reservation number but the local number of the actual hotel — and tell them I saw a discount rate on a third-party site.
Then I ask, “Can you match that — or do better?” I’ve always found the hotel was willing to play ball.
When a hotel uses a booking service or discounter, they have to pay them for the listing, based on how many people book with them.
When the hotel makes its own reservation, it actually makes more money, because it doesn’t have to split the fee with the third-party website.
I know it’s one more step, and a little more work than just hitting the “Book it” button on a discounter’s website. But here’s why I suggest you spend the extra few minutes to do it:
• The reservation will be less likely to get screwed up. When you book directly with the hotel with no outside parties involved, there are fewer ways can problems occur.
If there’s a problem, it’s between you and the hotel. You don’t have to call Orbitz at midnight to inquire why you have no reservation, or complain to Travelocity when you’re not happy with the way things are going.
• Usually, you will not have to pay in advance, unless you’re reserving some special discounted deal. Generally, hotels have more lenient cancellation policies, all the way up to 6 p.m. of the night you’re arriving, though it’s always good to clarify that beforehand in case they’re more strict.
• You’ll probably get a better room. Many hotels save the least desirable rooms for the people who booked on discount sites.
Also, you have more leverage to ask for a better room or an upgrade, since you are a customer of the hotel chain itself, not a third party.
I once booked a resort hotel near Cancun through a discounter, gleeful to save money, only to discover when we got there that we had the shabbiest old cabana, in the back of the resort, with no ocean view.
After asking at the desk, I discovered we could have had an oceanfront room for only $30 more per night, if we’d booked directly through the hotel.
• There’s less chance that you’ll get bumped if the hotel overbooks. If they run out of rooms, the first people to get bumped are the Internet reservations. They’re less likely to burn their own loyal customers, especially if they belong to the frequent-visitor program.
If you hurry up and join the hotel chain’s free loyalty club, you can mention that and maybe even get an upgrade or points, as well as free Internet. You typically get no hotel loyalty points if you book through a discount website.
Now, a warning: the hotel won’t match a price you find on the Internet if it’s not specifically listed by name.
You can’t find a hotel on Hotwire, for example, that isn’t named and then try to get your hotel to match it. Well, you can try it, I would never tell you not to try to get a deal. But it probably won’t work.
But you can find a hotel on Hotwire that is listed by name, and go from there. A while back, I went to visit a friend in Atlanta with the world’s smallest house. There was no question that I could fit in there with my two kids.
She suggested we should stay at the Courtyard by Marriott up the street, which had just been remodeled. The rack rate was over my budget — around $179 a night. The hotel’s discounted rate was $149, still too pricey.
But I found a Hotwire deal for that hotel for $113. I told my friend I was going to book it.
“Wait! Don’t do anything yet. I’ll call you back,” she told me.
A short time later, she rang me back.
“I went over and asked them if they would match the $113 Hotwire rate,” she told me. “They said, ‘Well, no, but we can do better. How about $107 per night?’ ”
Needless to say, that was OK with me. And I got Marriott travel points, too.