Why booking hotels with a travel agent is not always a smart choice

The one question we often get from people is that why don’t their hotel stays booked with an Online Travel Agency (OTA) get them similar benefits versus when they book a stay directly with a hotel.

It comes from the fact that hotels usually pay a very high commission, sometimes up to 35% to OTAs like MakeMyTrip and Expedia for hotel bookings that come through them. This is very different for airlines where airlines pay just a 1% commision to travel agents.

Over the past few years, hotels have been trying to cut down travel agent commisions by passing on the benefits directly to the consumer. Some hotel chains like IHG are even offering extra incentives to travellers who book direct.  Now booking a hotel stay via an OTA comes with its own set of benefits like you can compare multiple hotels on a single web page, you can filter hotels by price and you can look at hotels by star ratings.

However, booking a room directly with a hotel has its own advantages that a lot of travellers are not aware of. Here are 5 benefits you get when you book your stay directly with a hotel.

1.Hotels’ Best Rate Guarantee feature ensures that you do not pay a higher price – Most of us assume that the cheapest prices are offered only by travel agencies. However, hotel chains offer the Best Rate Guarantee which basically assures you that you get the cheapest rate by booking directly with them. If someone undercuts them, the hotel would match that price. The rationale is that hotels will rather pass on the discount to customers and induce a behaviour to book directly next time rather than head to an OTA website.

For example, Taj Hotels state that if you find a lower rate with an agent not only will they honour that rate but also give you an additional 10% discount.

Similarly, Hyatt offers guests an INR 3,260/ USD 50 credit along with matching the lowest rate published on another site. If you haven’t tried it yet, just call up or write to your preferred hotel the next time you find a better rate with an OTA and see them match it.

Here’s another example of December stay rates published on various OTAs Vs the price for booking directly with Grand Hyatt Goa.

Grand Hyatt Goa

Rates published on Trivago

 

Grand Hyatt Goa

Rates offered on the Hyatt booking website

2. Booking direct helps you earn loyalty points – While you can always earn air miles for your flights booked via agents, hotel loyalty programs work in a very different way. Most hotel brands like Starwood, Marriott, Hilton and IHG neither award points nor do they count stays booked via OTAs towards elite tier qualification.

Also, programs like Starwood Preferred guest offer their elite members a welcome gift on arrival. This is again not given if a booking is done through an OTA. Essentially booking via an agency does not get you any return for your stay.

3. Booking directly enables hotels to take care of your stay preferences – There is no way your travel agent can take care of individual stay preferences like twin room Vs king room, getting a room on the higher floor. However hotels today have sophisticated ways of remembering your preferences.

As a Marriott Rewards member, all I have to do is update one time my preferences in my profile right from the type of room I prefer to if I want extra towels in the room, to if I like a room on a higher floor. If you are someone who has specific choices then it’s always better to book directly as hotels will always go out of their way to accommodate your preferences.

 

4. Booking direct helps you take advantage of special members sales – From time to time hotel loyalty programs run special offers only for their members. These sales sometimes include bonus points earning and sometimes are fare sales.

For example, booking a night at the Hilton Shillim resort directly with Hilton hotel’s 35% member sale saved me INR 1350/ USD 20 vs the rates that were offered by the OTA.

Hilton Shillim

Room rate published on MakeMyTrip

 

Hilton Shillim

Hilton member only sale rate

5. Elite status with hotels gives you access to multiple benefits – Once you reach an elite status with a hotel loyalty program you get access to many benefits like complimentary breakfast, access to the club lounge, etc. For example, a buffet breakfast at a luxury hotel at W Goa or the JW Marriott in Bengaluru costs an average of INR 1200/ USD 18 per person in India. Hotel elite benefits usually include complimentary breakfast and lounge access for two people.

W Goa

Beer is served complimentary for breakfast at the W Goa

JW Marriott Bengaluru

Breakfast Spread at the JW Marriott, Bengaluru

While some lounges have such a scrumptious evening spread that it suffices as dinner. Paid lounge access at the Hyatt Regency in Chandigarh costs INR 2200/ USD 34 per guest. An elite status easily gets you access to benefits worth a few thousand rupees on every stay.

Evening lounge spread at the Hyatt Regency Chandigarh

Another benefit of status is room and suite upgrades that come with it. Hotels generally go out of their way to pamper their loyal customers by upgrading them to better category rooms and suites.

JW Marriott Mumbai

Our suite at the JW Marriott Sahar, Mumbai

Bottomline

The primary advantage of booking through an OTA is that you get multiple options together in one place. Although one of the biggest disadvantages of booking through an agent is that you don’t get any return on the money you spend on the booking.

Another reason I like to book my stays directly with hotels is that more than once when we have celebrated special occasions at hotels they’ve gone out of their way to surprise us and accommodate our requests.

Surprise wedding anniversary gift & flowers courtesy Park Hyatt Goa Resort & Spa

I would only book a hotel online when the price difference is massive and the hotel is unable to match it directly for me.

How do you book your hotel stays? Through OTAs or directly with the hotel?

Comments

  1. Does anybody know if I’ll get Taj Inner Circle Points if I book Shangri-La using an OTA?

    I wonder if anybody has experience with this.

  2. Keep these nice advices coming.

    I agree with most points above and try and book direct when possible. However, in smaller places, my experience with Hotels.com was great and they also give a night free when you make 10 nights with them, cumulative. Price for the free night, is the average of those 10 bookings.
    So, some element of loyalty is there in OTA sights too.

    • Agree with you there. I’ve always booking thru hotels.com with the view it gives me 1 on 10 i.e. 10 percent off directly. And I don’t always need to look for a particular chain so I can go with whatever is closest to workplace for me in that city.

      But this post is making me recalculate. Thanks a lot for sharing, guys.

  3. I had a different experience with Carlson and MMT. Carlson direct reservations informed me they were sold out on standard rooms and were trying to upsell a junior suite where as MMT got me a confirmed room at half the price in the same hotel and on check in even got a free upgrade to junior suite as well. So much for loyalty :((

  4. Always better to book direct. Higher chance of upgrades, less chance of getting bumped, and if something goes wrong, the hotel is more liable to go above and beyond.
    One trick if you are going to regularly use a certain hotel over 6 to 9 months for work is to book through an OTA, and while at the hotel, reach out to the on site sales team. They should be able to work out a special “project rate” for your visits. Keep in mind that there will be some minimum nights guarantee you will need to match up to, to ensure you avail that rate.

  5. Keep up the good work guys.
    I am totally onboard with the benefits a Hotel chain provides to a its customer and rarely book via an OTA where a hotel chain does not have a presence.
    However, something caught my eye. I am sure sure if I am missing something but the Grand Hyatt Goa comparison is not accurate. Since the OTA rates are with Taxes while the Hyatt.com rates are w/o taxes; which at 28% GST comes to Rs.16,703/-.

    • @PB – That’s the point INR 16,703 is the lowest OTA rate published and it’s the same as what Grand Hyatt Goa is offering under Best Rate Guarantee by booking direct.

      • Undoubtedly, but at times in smaller towns with limited hotel chain options, and if so not chasing Tier benefits or paltry points on offer anticipated for the stay (provided you have a valid elite tier). Shouldn’t one be focusing on the price through an OTA than a pure earning of Hotel Points. (Although, hypothetically speaking it mathematically would make no sense in terms for ones quest of incremental marginal points Vs Cash discount). But would be great to have your analysis on it.

        As a casing point – Last year, while evaluating a booking at JW Marriott Chandigarh it would have costed me approx. Rs.2,000/- less if I would have booked through corporate agent (they do not have tie-up with the hotel; they called the Hotel directly for the rates) rather than the direct Marriott website. On arrival and intimating the Check-in of my Elite Tier status (post linking my reservation number shared by the travel agent on the Marriott website), I was upgraded to Presidential Suite with breakfast thrown in and treated a special guest of the Hotel. Now in hindsight it is highly possible Luck shined on me, but then does this make me regret for some meagre points for a night or 2 vs saving Rs.5,000/- of possibly the same benefits. The key here, I believe is having a an Elite Tier.

        Would be great to hear some thoughts guys.

  6. Very insightful! But it works well if your travels take you to Metro Cities.

    In case of infrequent travel to tier 2 cities, OTAs are a blessing.

    However, I do agree to the fact that Chains like Hyatt really do go out of their way to make direct customers feel even more pampered!

    Please do keep up the good work guys!

  7. I guess its different for most programs. In my recent experience the prices that I got from my agent and direct hotel booking prices had a difference of about 10%-25%.
    I stayed with Holiday Inn Atrium in Singapore last month, booked through TA, got it for around 9k per night, direct booking after member discount was over 12k per night. Practically got a 4th night free by booking through TA but didnt get any IHG rewards as it was not on qualifying rates. But I am happy with the 25% upfront discount.
    I also stayed with W Singapore last month, got it for 18k per night through TA instead of 20k directly. And still I did get around 4500 reward points in my SPG which was surprising. This is enough to get me 1 free night at aloft bangkok for my trip next month.
    For me I was always into airline loyalty program mainly with Jet Airways. My usual travels are short, mostly for a day. Even on the trips I stayed, never bothered to join a hotel loyalty program. I was never into hotel loyalty programs before. I want to thank you guys for regular updates to make it interesting for me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *