Yesterday, I shared some thoughts about online booking services. Sites like Booking.com and Expedia.com demand a 20 to 25 percent commission from independently-owned hotels. I wrote that the best way to support small, family-run hotels — and get a better price — is to do your research online and then book directly with hotels by phone or email.
Many of you shared stories about the savings and upgrades you’ve enjoyed by booking directly with hotels. It was wonderful to read about your experiences. For example, Joanne wrote that before she traveled to France last summer, she researched hotels on Booking.com, Expedia.com, and TripAdvisor.com — and then made reservations directly on each hotel’s website. She ended up saving €20/day, got free breakfasts, and was upgraded to a larger room. (And I bet the hotels she booked with made €50 a night more, to boot. Win, win…)
Bill shared a particularly good point. He wrote that, by corresponding directly with small hotel owners, he develops relationships with locals before he even leaves home. I agree that there is huge value in this. For example, Maria wrote that one of her sweetest travel memories was using her very basic Italian and “lots of humor” to book a family-run hotel in Montepulciano. All of us can have this experience. It is only getting cheaper to call overseas and the language barrier is becoming less of an issue. And I’m guessing the savings will become even greater.
A couple of you expressed concern about sharing credit card information with a small hotel. In a lifetime of travels, I have never been worried about this and have never had any problems with fraudulent charges at a hotel. (And, even if this happened to me tomorrow, I’d still prefer not to be worried about this.)
It was interesting to hear several people in the hotel industry confirm that they give better rates and service to those who book directly. This makes sense when you realize that the hotels see you as paying significantly less per room, once the booking site takes their commission. I have a hunch that you’ll generally be charged less and treated better by hotels if, when booking directly with them, you let them know that you avoid middlemen on principle, so that hotels can be more profitable and provide a better value — and that you’d appreciate a preferred price or service, if possible. This is just honest, human-to-human communication.
Several travel agents chimed in and suggested travelers book hotels through a travel agency. While I use a travel agent for all my international flights, I’ve never seen the need to use one for hotels. That said, I’d rather see commissions go to travel agents than to huge corporate booking services.
Simon, who runs a small tour company, added some good perspective. He wrote that it’s not just booking sites that small businesses have to “play the game with” — they also struggle with review sites, such as TripAdvisor. Many small businesses are at the mercy of these sites’ algorithms. I agree that these sites are getting more aggressive. Small companies that don’t play by their rules will eventually be buried until they essentially disappear from public view. Unfortunately, however, the public will continue using them, thinking they’re getting “consumer information.”
Thank you again for all of your helpful and insightful comments. These big online travel services are only getting bigger. It’s up to us, as consumers, to educate ourselves and spend our dollars wisely.