Hotel chains all want you to ‘book direct’ but their efforts aren’t working. The simple reason is because the consumer booking a hotel room on Expedia or Orbitz doesn’t start off knowing which property they want.
If you don’t know you want to stay at the Hilton, you don’t go to Hilton.com.
- The hotel chain websites are all fine for booking their own properties (although don’t believe the lie that hotel sites always have the best price or that they’ll price match when they don’t).
- Hotel chain websites are not fine for helping you choose where to stay from the full range of lodging choices in a city.
Hilton’s commercials tell you that booking direct is so alluring!
Online travel agency sites have a role to play because as poor as most of them are, they do a better job displaying a broader range of choices than just Hilton, just Marriott, or just Hyatt. In other words they actually add value to consumers.
The problem is that Expedia, in my view, is terrible.
I used to book airfare with Expedia because:
- They have a rewards program which would stack credit card points earning as well as miles from flying. But they gutted it. Twice.
- They have country-specific websites that let you control which country your ticket is issued in.
- Because online travel agency sites can be better for combining multiple airlines on a single ticket.
I still wouldn’t want to book a hotel with Expedia. Expedia should be trying to match your hotel preferences with properties, that’s their competitive advantage for consumers over hotel direct sites. However they charge hotels to be listed higher in search results. So they’re not even making delivering the best search their sole priority.
Expedia Dancers Don’t Provide Customer Service. Flickr: Juggernautco
Two years ago I shared this cautionary tale about booking airfare with Expedia. They hadn’t disclosed special restrictions on a Japan Airlines fare, and customer service agents suggested that a customer should call Expedia before booking if they want to know the rules associated with a ticket.
That’s more important than ever as I hear story after story of people booking ‘Basic Economy’ tickets at Expedia without realizing they’re doing so, since those restrictions aren’t flagged as clearly as on airline websites.
Here’s a cautionary tale about having a third party between you and a hotel when something goes wrong. Often you want a travel agent booking a special hotel stay. They can be your advocate. Their business — sending a hotel many customers — may be more significant than your business, and the hotel may work harder to set things right.
However Expedia doesn’t seem to be any such advocate. Holly Parsons received an email in advance of a 3 night stay she had booked telling her that the hotel was cancelling her booking because they were oversold.
Parsons said she planned a trip to Bend, Oregon, with her cousin and both of their children to spend time together and watch her younger son compete in a lacrosse tournament.
Just weeks before the trip, she received an email saying her reservation at the WorldMark Seventh Mountain Resort was canceled because of overbooking.
Expedia issued a statement saying that the cancellation was “caused by external factors beyond the direct control of Expedia.” As a result Expedia owed her nothing, not even a refund.
Eventually after six hours on the phone with Expedia customer service over several days, they “reaccommodated her in a Holiday Inn Express” and offered “$500 worth of Expedia vouchers each.”
“The process of being on hold for so, so long and dealing with multiple, multiple people and repeating myself — it was awful,” said Parsons, the mother of two.
…”I wasn’t receiving cash in return. I’m receiving vouchers to do business with an entity that I’m not sure that I ever would want to do — or ever would recommend to do — business with ever again,” Parsons said.
Hotels overbook. Usually when that happens they assume an obligation to offer equivalent lodging elsewhere at the hotel’s expense for the night(s) that they cannot accommodate a guest. In my experience I’ve always also been offered points equivalent to free night(s) to stay at the hotel in the future.
You lose your hotel loyalty program points earning, and now with everyone except Marriott any elite recognition, when you book through ineligible third parties like Expedia. You’re more likely to be assigned an inferior room in my experience. And you have to deal with unempowered outsourced customer service agents when anything goes wrong.
For sure, search a site like Kayak to see in general what your lodging options look like. Then compare pricing with a direct booking (or value-add booking like American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts, Virtuoso, MasterCard Luxury Hotels & Resorts, or Visa Signature hotels). If the third party site is cheaper, submit a request to honor a best rate guarantee. And only if that’s denied book with a site like Expedia, but know what you’re getting into for any savings.