Always book direct. Step, or rather navigate, away from Expedia, Hotels.com, Booking.com and their ilk.
The best room, rate, service and stay come right from booking with the hotel directly.
While third-party booking sites can be a useful starting point for researching what hotels are available in certain destinations and at what price points, that’s probably the extent to which they should be used. Reserving directly with a hotel is the safest and best bet for reasons ranging from receiving special treatment to direct recourse should something go wrong.
Accountability: When the reservation relationship is between the guest and the hotel only, it’s clean and easy because there are only two parties involved: the customer and the business. When a third party (booking site) gets involved is when things can get messy. For example, sometimes reservations are not actually processed and the site and the hotel can pass the blame back and forth. This can potentially leave you with the wrong room or without a room at all, and there’s little hope for recourse.
If you want to see some horror stories, take a gander at ConsumerAffairs.com, where Hotels.com has 1/5 stars from more than 1,300 reviews.
Price matching: The big and probably only draw with booking through sites like Kayak and Travelocity is that they seem to turn up the lowest prices, even if it’s just by a few dollars. But what’s not yet common (enough) knowledge is that most hotels — especially chain hotels — will scramble to get your direct booking and match any price out there. All you have to do is present the cheaper price you found elsewhere for the same stay.
Marriott has a Look No Further Best Rate Guarantee policy that promises that it will not only match the lowest hotel rate found, but also give an extra 25% discount.
Room choice: Hotels only set aside a certain block of rooms for third-party platforms. Obviously, hotels keep the best rooms and most variety for themselves to sell directly. This can make a big difference when it’s a property where a standard room can vary greatly in size, which is especially common in old properties constructed ages ago, when rooms (and, well, people too) were smaller. A little online research can often unearth what type of room might really be linked to booking through a third-party site, like this petite room in Boston from Priceline.
More flexibility: When you book directly, hotels will often be more willing and able to help should you need to change your dates or even cancel, because they’re not bound by some third-party deal. Reserving a hotel room through a third-party site can essentially create and lock in a contract for a stay, which can limit wiggle room for the guest and hotel staff.
This also means that if you book directly, the hotel can do more to compensate a guest — like waive the cost of an entire stay — should something go wrong or not be up to snuff.
Better service, plus perks: Hotel staff might not come out and say it, but they’re inclined to treat guests better when those guests are giving them more money. Direct bookings are more profitable to them than ones through third-party sites that take a cut, and staff generally can see right in the computer system how a room was booked. They’re definitely checking the computer when a guest drops a hint about an upgrade.
Also, someone who reserves a room on a site like Expedia is a prime pick for “walking,” which is when a guest is sent to another property because of overbooking (a common practice) according to Jacob Tomsky, author of Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality.
Hotels also have the power and inventory to go above-and-beyond a standard hotel booking to create special packages or throw in perks like free breakfast. For example, Starwood is currently running an offer for its Mexico and Panama resorts that include free nights, food and beverage credits and upgrades. Third-party platforms only work with the basics, which for hotels is just rooms.