Tips for booking a hotel online

The key elements to your most effective current hotel strategy are (1) using a good metasearch system to locate the best deal, then (2) arranging the deal directly through the hotel or its chain website. For now, until they can find an answer, buying through an online travel agency (OTA) is more risky.

Why Metasearch? By now you’ve found that the best way to find a good deal anywhere you visit is to cast your net wide. This means using an online hotel search system or a phone hotel search app, of which you’ll find dozens. But search engines present two fundamentally different business models, and not everyone is clear about these fundamental differences:

— OTAs, such as Booking.com and Expedia.com, not only search for deals, but also perform the actual booking transaction and charge your credit card. They are real travel agents and they earn substantial commissions or fees on every booking.

— Metasearch engines, such as TripAdvisor, Google, and Trivago, search for rates for individual hotels and OTAs, but they do not complete the transaction. Instead, they connect you with a hotel or OTA to complete the transaction. They earn revenue by completing the link you select and selling favorable display position to hotels and OTAs.

Direct booking has two advantages. Most importantly, when you book a hotel belonging to one of the giant multi-brand chains – Accor, Best Western, Choice, Carlson, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Wyndham – you generally won’t earn loyalty points unless you don’t book. direct. In addition, several major chains, including Hilton and Marriott, limit “free” Internet access to customers who book direct and who are also part of their loyalty program: book through an OTA, lose your points and pay $10 a day or more for Wi-Fi. . Direct booking may also offer minor discounts or other benefits. Also, my experience is that I generally get a better room when I book direct than when I go through an OTA.

The other reason to book direct is to avoid “it’s the other person’s fault” back and forth when you have a problem or ask for a refund. When you visit consumer complaint websites, in the event of a dispute with an OTA hotel reservation, the OTA and the hotel usually blame each other. Achieving a reasonable resolution can be extremely difficult and sometimes impossible.

You should use the metasearch system with care. On TripAdvisor, for example, your initial hotel search typically returns four results, often with identical prices. These four results may or may not include a direct booking option, but if you click ‘see all offers’, the expanded display usually includes a direct booking link. Use this option; you will then book directly with the hotel.

Sometimes an OTA may have a better price than the direct booking rate. If the difference is substantial, go with the OTA, but acknowledge and accept the consequences.

Of course, you can sometimes find a much better rate thanks to the opaque OTA options at Hotwire and Priceline. If you are willing to accept a hotel chosen by the opaque OTA, these offers can be interesting.

I’m not entirely comfortable with my conclusion. Over the years I have used Hotwire and Booking.com extensively with excellent results. Booking.com, in particular, has developed an exceptional search system. But if I’m staying somewhere I’m likely to consider a big chain hotel, the loyalty points and free Wi-Fi almost force me to book direct.

So far, the main push for “direct booking” has come from hotel chains. But airlines also want you to book direct, so they avoid extra charges and can offer various upsell options. As far as I know, no major airline has yet said “book direct or no frequent flyer miles”, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it crop up, sooner rather than later.

At least for now, unless an OTA can offer a much better alternative, it’s best to book a hotel directly. And that may soon be true for airline tickets too.

Email Ed Perkins at [email protected] Also check out Ed’s new train travel website at www.rail-guru.com.

About Jean R. Manzer

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