Most people don’t just go to various online travel sites shopping around for the best price on the hotel they’ve already decided on — they go to travel sites to figure out where to stay in the first place.
For hotel chains to shift consumers to book direct, they need to:
- Show consumers the product that best meets their needs
- Offer consumers the best price on that product
- Give them the best user experience
Hotel chains want to avoid the high commissions these sites charge, and they’ve begun to address one piece of it — price.
Hotel Chains Are Aggressively Fighting the High Costs of Selling Through Expedia, Orbitz, and Hotels.com
Major chains now (sometimes) offer lower rates if you book direct on their websites than if you book through an online travel agency site like Expedia. The discounts are generally 2% – 10%, but usually closer to 2%.
The idea is that the chain isn’t paying the big commissions that “the OTAs” take so they incentivize you to save them that money. Of course the savings isn’t going to be as good, most of the time, as just booking a AAA rate.
Although no longer required in all cases or for all chains, what they’ll generally do is require you to be a member of their loyalty program to access the rates. Then they aren’t undercutting the regular rates offered through their online travel agency contracts (‘rate parity agreements’).
Major chains have these discounts along with hotel loyalty points to offer you if you book through them rather than with Orbitz or Booking.com.
Independent Hotels Have a New Tool to Do This, Too
Independent hotels though are especially at the mercy of online travel agency sites. They also pay higher commissions than the “high teens” that we often see for the chains.
Enter The Guestbook, a program which gives you 5% cash back or 10% in credit for future hotel stays, for booking direct with any of their current network of about 500 properties.
- It gives you a reason to ‘book direct’
- They can offer this rebate to you, rather than lowering the room rate, while still adhering to the rate parity agreements they have with online travel agency sites.
- The rebate applies to nearly all rates. You get the rebate whether you’re booking a AAA rate, or even most corporate rates (less than 5% of negotiated rates are excluded).
- The rebate comes on top of other benefits that you may get as part of the hotel’s own rewards program.
Getting Credit For Stays
The Guestbook publicly launched back in December. You still have to email them your reservation confirmation or final bill in order to claim the credit — or else you can give them access to your email box and they’ll do it for you, but I really don’t like that option.
There’s a tradeoff between seamlessness and actually having your book directly where they aren’t a part of the process. And since forwarding emails is easy when there’s cash on the line, I can accept that.
All it takes is an email address to join, and you can even sign up using Facebook Connect. Some hotels will actually show you the rebate option during the booking process on their hotel site.
How You Know What Rebates You’ll Get
You can get the rebate whether you start your booking at The Guestbook’s website or directly on a hotel’s website.
I stayed at The Hudson hotel in New York about two and a half years ago. They now participate in The Guestbook.
When you search for a room on their website now, they highlight the cash rewards.
Mousing over gives you this popup which explains:
Rewards aren’t only on room rates, either — about half of the 500 participating hotels offer rewards for in-hotel charges like food and beverage as well.
Are the Rewards Better Than an OTA’s Rewards Program?
Booking direct you’re giving up shopping portal credit, like BigCrumbs or Ebates. And you’re giving up credit in the online travel agency’s own program (Expedia’s return is poor, but Orbtiz’s is better, and Hotels.com Welcome Rewards will give you a free night for every 10 nights).
Even if you’re only breaking even compared to Hotels.com’s rebate program, with The Guestbook you don’t have to wait until you’ve had several stays under your belt to use your rebate. You get it after the very first stay, and can take (the smaller payout) even in cash via Paypal.
Plus by booking direct and earning with The Guestbook,
- You can earn rewards on almost all rates, not only prepaid rates and with most discounts like AAA and AARP.
- You have a direct relationship with the hotel you’re staying at, without the OTA in the middle. You can call the hotel to make changes instead of dealing with the OTA’s customer service. And you’ll get any communications the hotel sends in advance of your stay too.
Perhaps most importantly, even if it’s break even, by booking direct you’re going to avoid getting assigned an OTA room.
My view at the Marriott Key Bridge on a Getaroom.com Booking
The Guestbook’s Metasearch Feature Doesn’t Work Right, Though
A potentially nice feature of searching for hotel stays on the Guestbook site itself (although you do not need to in order to earn rewards through their program) is that they offer a metasearch comparison so you know ‘book direct’ pricing versus pricing at competitor sites.
Ostensibly they show you the ‘book direct’ price (if you choose to book with them, they’re just going to send you into the booking path at the hotel’s own website) as well as competitor OTA prices.
For instance, here’s the Mondrion Hotel London:
They’re showing a rate of $141 — and suggesting that Hotels.com and Travelocity are pricing the hotel higher.
However when I clicked through to Hotels.com I actually got a rate of $144. That’s $3 higher — but not the $172 that The Guestbook told me it would be.
The site is certainly honest in telling me that London’s 54 Boutique Hotel is available cheaper elsewhere:
But instead of a price of $202 at Hotels.com, I found a price of $170!
I haven’t done systematic searches of these site, these were just the first two hotels I looked at. But my initial take is that The Guestbook isn’t going to replace Kayak.com for metasearch any time soon.
One More Tool for the Arsenal
There are reasons not to book direct. For instance,
- There may be special perks booking through an agent, especially with luxury properties. American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, Virtuoso, Visa, and MasterCard all offer programs that give you throw-ins like upgrades, breakfast, and late check-out at participating properties that you may not get if you go straight to book with the hotel.
- The hotel may not be showing inventory for their standard room, while an online travel booking site does. As a result the online travel site is much cheaper.
However the ability to earn a rebate for stays booked direct gives you another reason to book through a hotel’s own website rather than with Expedia, Orbitz, or the like.
Or if you’re going to search one of those sites for hotels, it’s a reason to leave the site and at least compare prices directly because if it’s one of 500 participating hotels you may do better that way.