When It Pays to Book Directly with a Hotel
If you want to collect loyalty points and receive free perks, consider going straight to the source.
While you may score a great deal by reserving your stay with a third-party booking site, you can get extras, such as free room upgrades and Wi-Fi access, by booking directly with a hotel.(Getty Images)
In 2015, 57 billion Hilton HHonors loyalty points, representing 1.6 million free nights, went unearned, according to Hilton, because customers did not book directly with them. As a result, the hotel chain recently launched the largest marketing initiative in the company's nearly 100-year history to educate guests about the benefits of booking directly with its hotels. The "Stop Clicking Around" campaign aims to show travelers that by booking directly with the hotel group, they will receive the best price, desirable benefits and have a more personalized stay, says Geraldine Calpin, chief marketing officer at Hilton Worldwide. Plenty of other hotels and chains are jumping on the bandwagon, offering special perks to those who bypass online travel agencies like Expedia and Travelocity, and instead go online, use an affiliated app or call to book their stay directly with the property.
So what are you missing by booking your room through a third-party website? Everything from free Wi-Fi to better rooms to reduced rates. Here's a rundown of when it pays to go direct.
[See: The Best Hotels by Brand 2016.]
If You Want to Rack up Travel Rewards Points
If you don't book your hotel room directly with a property, you may lose out on loyalty points in their rewards program, as most programs will not allow you to earn points for a stay booked through a third-party. Darius Dubash, co-founder of the Million Miles Secrets website, explains that hotels often have promotions to earn extra points when staying a certain amount of nights that you could be missing out on as well. "These promotions are almost always limited to folks who book directly through the hotel. So, you may lose out on extra points if you book through a hotel aggregator," he says.
Points not only earn you free stays but also count toward upgraded status in some hotel loyalty programs, which can offer even more benefits. Guests can also use points for things other than free accommodations, such as frequent flier miles or tickets to concerts and sporting events.
If You Want to Ensure You Receive the Lowest Rates
As part of Hilton's campaign, consumers who book directly receive a special discounted rate. HHonors members who reserve a room at least 15 days in advance, receive 3 percent off stays from Sunday to Thursday and 10 percent off stays on Fridays and Saturdays. And for reservations within 14 days, guests receive a 2 percent discount any day of the week. Meanwhile, members of the Hyatt Gold Passport hotel rewards program receive a discount of up to 10 percent when booking directly.
The Intercontinental Hotel Group has been offering a "Best Price Guarantee" since 2002, promising the lowest room price publicly available online on its website. The hotel group will match any lower online rate found within 24 hours of booking a room on their site. Marriott, Hyatt and Starwood will similarly match a better rate, plus give guests an extra discount for going direct. And with Marriott, you'll get an extra 25 percent off your nightly rate, while Hyatt offers an extra 20 percent discount and Starwood lets you choose either 2,000 reward points or a 20 percent discount of your nightly rate. In addition, Marriott allows you to pay when you check in when you book direct, and also permits you to change or cancel your reservations.
Jason Steele of credit card comparison website CompareCards.com points out that booking directly also gives you negotiating power when it comes to pricing. "Often, I will call the hotel and simply ask for a better rate, and receive it," he says.
If You Want Digital Perks
The lack of free Wi-Fi at hotels has long been the gripe of travelers, and many hotels and groups are giving guests that desired perk in exchange for booking directly with their hotels and being a member of their rewards program.
At Hilton, HHonors members who book online are able to check-in online or via their smartphone ahead of time and select their room preference. Meanwhile, Hilton and Marriott are rolling out similar programs for rewards members at their properties. Plus, Starwood offers digital keys to their SPG members.
If You Want an Upgraded Hotel Room
While you may land an enticing package by booking your reservation with an online travel agency, you can't always count on the perks you might expect when booking direct. For example, Steele recalls a tme when he used an OTA to book a non-smoking room, but upon a late arrival was given a smoking room. "When I complained, I was told point blank that the non-smoking room was merely a 'preference' that could not be honored because we booked through a third party," he says.
"Most chain hotels will not give you the worst room if you booked directly through their website and are a member of their loyalty program," Dubash says. "The most undesirable rooms are usually allocated to folks who booked through third-party sites," he adds. Dubash has even been upgraded to suites when booking hotel stays directly through Hyatt where he has Diamond status member, but says that even those with basic membership status in a hotel rewards program can get upgraded to a more desirable room.
There's even an app, HotelUpgrade, that helps you maximize upgrades. By booking directly through the app, guests can get you more upgrades, such as suites, club access, additional points or free drinks, at no cost.
If You Want Extra Amenities
Smaller hotel groups and properties are following suit and promoting direct bookings as well. At Hawaii's Aqua-Aston Hospitality properties, including Lite Hotels, Kauai Shores, an Aqua Hotel, Aqua Waikiki Pearl Hotel and Ilikai Hotel & Luxury Suites, guests who book directly get a $20 Starbucks gift card each day of their stay. Plus, some properties provide a Hawaiian gift basket and complimentary car rentals.
Meanwhile, at The Kitano New York, guests who book directly with the property receive complimentary room upgrades, early check-in times starting at 10 a.m. and extended check-out times. In fact, The Kitano's perks are so popular that 65 percent of the hotel's guests reserve rooms in person. And at ACME Hotel Company in Chicago, guests who book direct not only receive the best rate, but also free use of Google Glass during their stay, as well as a "Hotspot to-Go," which grants free Wi-Fi cross the Windy City.
Steele says there are even some credit cards that offer bonuses for hotel charges booked directly.
Should you Ever Book through a Third-Party Website?
According to Dubash, there are several times when it makes sense to consider booking your stay with an OTA. For example, he uses Hotels.com to stay at smaller properties that may not have affiliated rewards programs. That way, he can earn one complimentary night after staying 10 nights at a property booked through Hotels.com, he explains.
Third-party sites can also be helpful when looking for hotels in smaller cities outside the U.S., because aggregators usually have user-friendly websites and are in English, Dubash says. "Sometimes, the cancellation policies through aggregators may be more lenient than that of a hotel," he says. "And in the case of smaller hotels, you may lose your entire deposit if the hotel goes bust, but if you booked through an aggregator, you may get your money back," he adds.
Steele also likes to use aggregators to compare the different hotel options available for a desired destination. "These sites work very well for finding available rooms, as it's much more convenient than querying the sites of dozens of hotels," he says.
About En Route
Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.
Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.
Edited by Liz Weiss.
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