It’s always a bummer when I have almost completed a post and then have to put it on hold as new information becomes available. But hey, the world of travel is busy.
Don’t Book Your Hotel through An Online Travel Agent (OTA)
OTAs such as Expedia are an excellent source to search for hotels. One press of the button can show you all the hotels in a region, regardless of brand. You can compare prices, brands, amenities, etc. But they don’t necessarily represent the best place to book your hotel room, even though they all have loyalty programs.
Some history: The internet has been a real frenemy to travel companies. It has significantly cut their costs to book travel, but transparent pricing also makes it that much easier for consumers to search for a discount. As Expedia gobbles up every OTA in sight, it will gain more power over the distribution channel.
When it comes to airlines, they don’t care (for the most part). If you are traveling from city A to city B, there are probably only a couple of ways to do so. Chances are you will go right to your airline’s website to book, or at least end up there.
But hotels are different: There are hundreds of hotels in some cities and no easy way to figure out which one is best. That’s why consumers often turn to the online travel agents. In turn, the hotels have to pay a commission to the OTAs. Given the power that OTAs have in the hotel distribution business, lodging companies have come up with other ways to keep you on their proprietary sites. Some don’t give you points if you book through an OTA. Others won’t award you your loyalty benefits.
And we’re now seeing a third method to counter OTAs: the member discount. Lodging companies, such as Club Carlson above, are offering discounted prices to loyalty program members only and, to get these prices, you need to book at their sites. 10% seems to be the standard, although that may not end up being the final discount you get (i.e., you might have to surrender other rights, such as the ability to cancel.).
OTAs do have loyalty programs, but they tend not to deliver as much value as the hotel programs themselves.
The Bottom Line
Feel free to use OTAs to search for a hotel, but book it through the lodging company’s proprietary site. You’ll pick up better benefits and not have to deal with OTA customer service if something goes wrong.
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