Saturday, September 25, 2021

Through Agencies vs. Direct Hotel Booking


It was already 7 pm and heavily snowing when our airplane landed.  Living 200 kilometers away from Halifax, I had booked a room next to the airport.  Thank goodness, as the regular bus to our town left the airport only once a day - in the morning at 11 am.  To call friends to pick me up was not in my mind, at least I did not want to ask them on this snow day to drive 400 kilometers round trip.

It took about half an hour until the hotel shuttle bus arrived to pick up a group of seven travelers. However, the shuttle drove to a huge parking area where all others had their cars parked. One couple did not find their car and the driver patiently cruised around and around until these folks recognized their vehicle under a snow cover.  Finally, almost two hours after landing, I checked in and got a room twenty meters from the reception. 

Thin walls allowed me to be entertained beyond midnight by listening to arriving guests or phone calls of the receptionist… The short night ended at 4 am when calls by the receptionist (this time another one) woke me up.  I tried without success to continue sleeping.  At 6 am I got up and walked over to their desk and asked for the manager. He would arrive around 9 am I was told.  “OK, then, when and where is breakfast?”  “Sorry, but due to the pandemic, we cannot offer breakfast”.  “What? Where can I get a cup of coffee and something to eat?”  “The next place is a coffee shop at the airport”.  At least I could catch the shuttle bus to be driven to and from the airport back to the hotel.

There I opened my laptop to use the time until the manager would arrive.  But no luck, the Internet did not work.  I packed my suitcase and got ready for departure, hoping that the Internet at the airport would work.  In the meantime, the manager (or his junior assistant) arrived at his office, and I complained about my not-so-clean room, about the missing breakfast (that was included in the hotel fee), and about the loud noise that kept me from sleeping.  I demanded a discount.  The manager told me that he could only talk about it if I would have booked directly at their hotel (chain) - but not when booked through a third party.  I would have to go through Booking, Priceline, Expedia, or wherever I paid for my hotel room.  I was furious, but couldn’t do anything other than writing a one-star review for this hotel on Google.  And I swore myself to never, ever book through an agency for flights, trains, rental cars, or hotel rooms.

As I am almost a full-time traveler, my resolutions, however, melted in the sun… 

In Spring I traveled near Algonquin Park and in the late afternoon, I discovered an attractive hotel in a small town.  I went in and inquired at the reception about a room and its price.  A bit shocked about the answer, I gambled and offered a lower price “that I had seen on the Internet”.  

The receptionist explained to me that I would have to order it online to get a price like this. “So, you mean I can pull out my laptop and order it online in front of you and get a lower price?  Even though the agencies deduct you another 15-20%?  Why don’t you just give me a lower price?” “No, that’s not possible” she explained, “due to directions she got from her manager”. 

“OK, then please give me your password, and I’ll order online”.  “No password needed, you can go directly to the Internet.”  So I sat down and checked the agency's hotel prices.  To my surprise, it was just ten dollar lower.  But at the same time, I saw a bed & breakfast with lots of favorable reviews - and I booked a room there - without an agency.  Thanks to the friendly but firm receptionist (or her managers) - which lost a customer…

Weeks later I prepared for another trip to Europe and to avoid traveling in trains or busses during the pandemic, I booked a rental car.  Despite having paid in full for three weeks through the agencies' website, I was forced to leave a  deposit of 2,000 euros.  When I returned the car I demanded my credit card payment back.  No, they cannot give me the credit as I had booked over an agency.  But I had given my credit card for the deposit in person at the Salzburg, Austria, rental company, and wanted my deposit back from them.  They assured me I would have the credit returned within 3 days by the agency. 

Four months later I still did not have the money back on my credit card, despite dozens of emails, calls, even a registered letter.  I was bounced forth and back from the rental place to the agent and vice versa.  I then went to the Internet and posted the case to several consumer sites, to the tourism office, and the city of Salzburg, as well as to authorities in Munich where the agency is located.  I even sent the case to several daily papers in both cities.  I am not sure who influenced the agency or the rental office, but finally five months after the incident, I got my money back.

On another occasion, during a busy, long travel weekend, I even drove from hotel to hotel in person, but every room in the area was booked.  Until my laptop showed me a hotel through where one room was available.  I drove to the place and when checking in, I showed them my loyalty member card of their hotel chain. To my dismay, I learned that loyalty cards are not recognized once a guest book through Expedia, Priceline, or  Most hotel brand loyalty rewards programs don’t offer points on stays booked through third-party sites, I learned through my research.  On top of this, when I checked the hotel’s website, I saw that a direct booking with the hotel would have saved me sixteen dollars.

Using hotel agencies, you will lose not only your points from hotel chains 

but also all discounts for seniors, AARP, military, and membership points 

from the AAA (US) or CAA (Canada).

Enough is enough!  I am done with these agencies and will avoid any of them, and book hotel rooms, rental cars, etc. directly - even if I pay a couple dollars more.  Some of the hotels are fed up with agencies and try to lure customers back with price-matching and other perks, such as a free breakfast.  Other places are not so smart and lose not only money by paying agency fees, but also by losing some customers who avoid places where customer service is bounced to a far away agency. 

The travel website Frommer’s stated in an article: “To get the best deal, you should always surf the Web for the best hotel price, right?  Well, no, not anymore.  Hotels are increasingly trying to sweeten the pot if you agree to book a room directly with them.  To get the best deal, you should always surf the Web for the best hotel price, right?  Well, no, not anymore.  Hotels are increasingly trying to sweeten the pot and are fighting back with special rate discounts—so long as guests book directly with the hotel.”

“Hyatt hotels Hilton Worldwide, Marriott International, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), which includes Holiday Inn, Kimpton, Hotel Indigo began offering "Your Rate by IHG Rewards Club" discounts for its loyalty members as well.  Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott also have similar 'Best Rate Guarantee' policies in place.”


Facit: When the reservation relationship is between the guest and the hotel only, it's clean and easy because there are only two parties involved: the customer and the business.  When a third party (booking site) gets involved is when things can get messy. 

Read more about direct booking vs booking agencies:

"Hotels were shelling out more for commissions, on top of reimbursing affiliated loyalty programs for points accrued by members during stays, causing a noticeable hit to profit earnings.  Recognizing the need to minimize overhead expenses, hotels took various steps to control how customers make reservations.  In addition to gradually cutting OTA commissions, hotels rolled out exclusive member rates and status perks to entice travelers to book directly. There were entire marketing campaigns launched around direct bookings. Likewise, hotel programs largely stopped awarding points for OTA bookings. After all, points aren’t free, but they’re often cheaper to award than paying an OTA a large commission. As a result of all of this, you’re still usually unable to earn hotel points when you book a hotel through an OTA."




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