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The Benefits of Booking Direct – How Hotels Punish You for Booking Somewhere Else, and Reward You for Booking Direct

If you’ve ever booked with a low-cost hotel room consolidator, like Priceline or Hotwire, you may have noticed that, when it came time for check-in, you were treated like a second-class citizen. That’s nothing new. It’s no surprise that guests who pay substantially less for their rooms are more likely to end up next to the elevator with a lovely view of the parking structure.

What is new is many travelers realizing they’re being treated as second-class hotel guests when they book a room on a more traditional online travel agency (OTA), like Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak, Orbitz or Hotels.com.

Today, many hotels extend specific benefits and perks to travelers who book directly with them. For example, book a room at a Marriott on Expedia, and you’ll miss out on any elite perks you may have earned through Marriott Rewards, as well as the opportunity to earn points for your stay.

The story is pretty much the same at many chains across the country.

Why This Happens

Why would hotel chains want you to book with them instead of an OTA? In the immortal words of ABBA: Money. Money. Money.

Hotels pay commissions to OTAs that typically range between 15% and 25% of the total cost of the room. That means if you book a $200 stay through an OTA, the hotel gets around $160, while the OTA earns $40. So if the hotel can convince you to book with them directly, they keep that money.

The one exception is traditional travel agents. Book through a real human travel agent, and you’ll nearly always get the same perks as booking direct, plus any perks negotiated by your agent’s agency or umbrella agency.

What You Lose Booking Through an Online Travel Agency

Every loyalty program is different. But, the most universal benefit of booking direct is receiving loyalty program status benefits and points with the hotel’s loyalty program.

Here’s a chart that spells out the benefits you can expect to lose by booking through a third party at the major hotel programs.

  Earn Status Through OTA Booking Enjoy Status Benefits During OTA Party Booking
Marriott No No
Hilton No No
IHG No No
Hyatt No Yes
Radisson No Yes

Booking with an OTA universally means you won’t earn any points or hotel loyalty credit. At most programs, it also means you won’t get the benefits of any status you may have earned.

For example, if you’re a Hilton Diamond member and book your stay through Expedia, you’re going to miss out on a complimentary room upgrade (that can include suites for Diamonds), free breakfast, executive lounge access, your welcome amenity, your points and 50% point bonus and a host of other smaller benefits.

Even if you don’t have status, hotels often offer smaller perks, like free Wi-Fi, free parking and exclusive packages only available with direct bookings. That’s in addition to the fact that direct bookings often get priority when it comes to room placement, views and in-room amenities.

Price Matching When You Book Direct

The big reason people use third-party booking sites in the first place is price. Many times, third-party sites have, or seem to have, a better rate than booking direct with the hotel. That’s why nearly every hotel chain has instituted some form of a best rate guarantee. The specifics vary from chain to chain, but, essentially, they offer to match or beat any “qualifying” rate you find at a third-party site.

“Qualifying” is in quotes because there are some specific exclusions. You won’t get a price match on rates you see at auction or “hidden name” sites, like Hotwire and Priceline, or on rates that require you to log in to an account to view the rates. But generally, if it’s a publicly available rate on a third-party site, you can get the hotel to match it and earn all the benefits of booking direct.

When You Might Want to Book With a Third Party Anyway

So, with all that, why might you want to book with an OTA in some situations?

There are a few possible reasons. The biggest one is if you find a really good rate that doesn’t qualify for the chain’s best rate guarantee. It’s entirely possible that booking with Hotwire, Priceline or another non-qualifying consolidator can save you more than $100/night on your reservation in specific scenarios. In that case, the savings might be worth more than any perks the hotel will offer for booking direct, especially if you don’t have elite status with that chain.

The other scenario where third-party booking might pay off is if you don’t have the opportunity to earn points and status with a single chain. Say your travels take you to places that aren’t served by a single hotel chain, or you prefer to stay in smaller boutique hotels. In that case, you might be better off earning rewards directly through an OTA. Hotels.com offers one free night for every 10 booked through the site. Orbitz and Expedia both offer the ability to earn rewards, plus VIP perks, like free Wi-Fi, room upgrades and free breakfast for frequent bookers. However, these perks are typically only available at select hotel partners, usually represented by smaller chains and independent hotels.

If you’re not staying at a single hotel chain enough to earn its elite benefits, you might be better off focusing on status and rewards through an OTA.

Finally, some OTAs offer package savings that are too big to ignore. Book a hotel, car and flight through a package special at a single OTA, and you might rack up savings that eclipse any perks a hotel’s direct booking could offer.

Maximizing Every Travel Dollar

Your best bet is to be strategic about every booking you make. Once you understand the potential perks of booking direct or through a traditional travel agent, you can weigh those against any benefits you get by booking through an OTA. With that in mind, you can get more luxury for less money on every trip you take. That’s a goal we’re behind 100%.

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