Skip your travel agent and those comparison booking sites. That’s what more hotels want you to do, and they’re pulling out all the stops to persuade you to do it.
But should you?
Travelers like Tom Harriman want to know. He recently found a hotel in Miami Beach, Fla., that offered to waive its mandatory $25-a-night resort fee and upgrade his room — if he would book direct instead of through an online travel agency.
“I assume booking direct would be the plan,” says Harriman, an attorney from Washington, D.C.
Weighing the value of a travel agent — and especially an online travel agency — against the benefits of a direct booking may make the choice look like a no-brainer. But there are risks and some long-term effects you should consider before bidding your agent adieu.
“We’ve certainly seen a trend of hotels increasingly using perks, guarantees, and advertising to encourage more direct booking and wrestle business back from the online travel agencies,” says Daniel Guttentag, the director of the Office of Tourism Analysis at the College of Charleston. The reason is simple. Direct bookings allow a hotel to keep more money because it doesn’t have to pay commissions to an agent.
One of the boldest direct-booking campaigns belongs to Red Roof, which launched a “Type Don’t Click” campaign this summer “to ensure safe, authentic booking.” The company claims it’s protecting its customers from “fraudulent booking websites,” but I’ve received very few complaints of fraudulent hotel reservations. Red Roof, however, is protecting its profits from online agencies, which may take a 15-20% cut of their bookings.
Choice Hotels, like many other hotel chains, offers a lowest rate guarantee for customers who book direct. It also gives its loyalty members Choice Privileges rewards, including points to redeem for a free night, gift cards, airline miles or gas. And if you check in during the week, you can receive a bonus, like a $5 gift card.
Independent hotels are perhaps the quietest, but most aggressive, about drumming up direct bookings. Some even offer to remove junk charges like resort fees — mandatory extras added to your bill after you start…