With the penetration of the Internet, one of the enabling factors for the various travel providers such as hotels is their ability to cut out the middle-men, i.e., the travel agents. The only way the can afford to do this, or they claim to do this, is by promising that they are putting out the best available rates on their websites, and no one else is going to be lower.
The hotel business does have a lot more commissions as compared to the airline business, which works on wafer thin margins for the agents now. Hence, the ability to discount for a travel agency is much more, and they do it all the time.
What do I stand to lose, if I book via third-parties? I don’t get my status related benefits, which can be okay for a one-off traveller, but when you’re a road warrior, you definitely need these privileges.
Most times, I am not so worried about pricing, because I’m booked up via corporate contracts. But there are also times when I want to go to places inside the network of hotels for leisure. Last month, on a trip to Jaipur, it turned out so.
I booked up the Four Points by Sheraton, Jaipur for my overnight trip. However, I realised that the hotel was selling a better deal via Cleartrip.com. If I bought the same rate from Starwood as the Cleartrip one, they were selling it for 10% extra. In fact, Cleartrip was advertising the same rate as Starwood and scratching it. Here is a screenshot from Cleartrip:
Anyhow, I did not expect much. The first time around, Starwood refused the BRG claim, stating the rate at Cleartrip.com was an on request price, which meant that once I asked for a room to be booked, they’d go back to the hotel and ask for them to book a room within 48-72 hours. That got me all red in my face, because they were denying the claim on a technicality that was wrong!
So I wrote back to Starwood explaining the situation again, and it did take a bit of back and forth to explain to them what was happening. It is stupid although for a claim desk to be sitting in the USA and processing a BRG claim in another part of the world where they at least did not understand the technicalities or the local currency and so on.
Fortunately, the claim was approved, and I was offered a further 10% discount on the competing rate, or 2000 Starpoints extra for the stay. Guess what did I choose?
Bottomline: it is always a good idea to compare rates while booking. Sometimes, those few minutes will help you with a lot of points or discounts.