Third-party booking websites that offer travelers a one-stop shop for hotel reservations, airline seats, and other services are almost as old as the Internet itself. They save the work of slogging through individual hotel, airline, and other travel sites to find the best offers. But when it comes time to make a reservation, here are 12 reasons why booking direct though a company's own website might be the better option.
Despite the ease of comparison shopping and the promise of discounted prices through online travel agents, sometimes booking direct yields the best price. Marriott has a "Look No Further Best Rate Guarantee" to not only match the lowest rate a customer finds within 24 hours but give a 25 percent discount on top of the low price.
BETTER SELECTION FOR ADVANCE BOOKING
Some third-party booking sites sell whatever leftover airline seats or hotel rooms didn't move at full price. This can bring some good last-minute deals -- but not a lot of choice. For trips planned in advance, direct booking typically offers more options and scheduling flexibility.
Third-party sites with listings from hundreds of hotels and airlines usually don't go beyond basic, bulleted lists of standard amenities. Many hotel and airline websites include more detailed information, and consumers don't have to input travel dates to browse the options. For example, Expedia makes no mention of nearby public transportation options at a Hyatt property outside Chicago, while the hotel specifies the closest train stations and where to transfer to get downtown.
Hotel owners aren't likely to admit it, but many are inclined to give better treatment (and perks) to guests who aren't funneling profits to a third-party vendor. Often staff can see how a room was booked when a guest is checking in -- or asking about an upgrade -- and respond accordingly.
FEWER HIDDEN FEES
These days third-party sites typically don't charge booking fees, instead making money by collecting commissions from hotels and other service providers, but added costs can be creatively built into the final tab. Priceline, for example, charges customers a nonrefundable processing fee (the amount varies) for some airline reservations.
Anytime a room or flight is booked, there's the possibility of something going wrong -- reservations can be misplaced, flights canceled, or rooms accidentally given away. Book direct with airlines or hotels, and they're more likely to diagnose and do what they can to fix the problem. With a middleman involved, it's easier for all parties to pass the buck. This is an issue that comes up in many 1-star reviews on ConsumerAffairs for Hotels.com.
In the event something does go wrong, arranging a refund directly from a hotel or airline is usually easier and faster than trying to claim one through whichever intermediary made the reservation. Because the third party has to pursue a refund through the hotel or airline, the process is likely to get bogged down.
Want more legroom, a lounge pass, Wi-Fi, or priority boarding for a flight? Those add-ons can't always be booked through third-party sites. Hotels also create special packages. For example, Starwood currently has an offer for 35 percent off that includes breakfast for two.
Even the best-laid plans sometimes need to change. When it's necessary to reschedule a reservation, hotels and airlines are more likely to accommodate customers who have made direct bookings. Third-party sites may have an extra fee, more restrictions, and fewer options for rebooking or changing a reservation -- as well as legalese in the booking contract that negates any wiggle room.
While hotels set aside blocks of rooms for third-party vendors, they tend to keep the best rooms to sell directly. Guests who book through an outside site may get the standard room they requested, but it might be the stinker next to the constantly-running elevator with a limited view and strange corners.
For frequent travelers who take part in reward programs, points are usually offered only through direct bookings. Chain hotels also may offer additional discounts to members who book direct. Members of the Hyatt Gold Passport loyalty program can save up to 10 percent. Hilton, Marriott, and Starwood Hotels have offered similar discounts.
While airlines and hotels often let third-party websites handle any unsold vacancies and other leftover reservations, some of the best promotions are likely to appear on the company's own website. Hotels and airlines want to reward customers who seek out their brands directly.