Monday 27 January 2020

How to book your holiday - 2020s style

It's that time of year again. We may not be in time to save you making a mistake with your skiing holiday but we guarantee you'll have a better experience this summer if you spend 5 minutes reading what follows.

But first, some statistics: sucked in $14.5 billion - yes that's $14,500,000,000 - in 2019. That's your money. Paid out in commissions by the hotels you are booking. The commission rates? generally between 15 and 28 percent.

Value for money?

Now, all of this would be fine if you - and the hotels - and all the other travel businesses - were getting value for money. But are you? Let's look at some of the practices of these online travel agencies (OTAs) and their clients (and when we say we mean all the OTAs, from to Expedia to Trivago and TripAdvisor)..

1.  Can you book direct with the hotel and receive a discount that acknowledges that you are saving them a shed-load of commission?

No: most of the OTAS have a clause in the small print that prohibits the hotel from undercutting the rate published on their site (and this is backed up by teams of mystery shoppers phoning the hotels and checking that they are not discounting to direct bookers).

2.  But surely I will be saving money by booking with them?

No: have another look at their advertising, which admittedly at first glance cleverly infers that will be the case, but it categorically is not; a good example is a well-known advertisement where two women are checking out of the hotel - and being charged wildly different rates. The inference is that the one using the booking site has cleverly got a bigger discount. Not true - see point 4 below.

3.  But they have other benefits - no cancellation fees, for example?

No: Very few - if any - hotels will deny a direct booker any of the so-called advantages offered by the booking site.

4.  So why am I being given the impression that I will get a) a better rate and b) extra benefits by using the booking site?

Because most hotels, in Europe at least, have good and not so good (often downright bad) rooms. The room may be the same grade or standard and even size, with the same facilities but it will suffer from one or more of the following...

  • view - none or impaired
  • location - far from amenities - sea, pool, dining area etc. - or, worse: the reverse!
  • proximity to antisocial areas - kitchen, smoking area, staff parking, refuse collection, nightclub, busy road, noisy lift
And guess what? Those are the rooms that the hotel sells through the travel website.

What should I do?

Just one of a slew of articles about questionable practices at OTAs.

By all means use the OTAs to conduct your research - and read the reviews they invariably host. But book direct. Always. Here's a checklist...
  • Call or email the hotel direct
  • Tell them your preferred dates and ask for rates (often a hotel will reward you for choosing a marginally different date)
  • Ask what other incentives they have for direct booking (hotels are increasingly good at negotiating their way around the OTAs restrictive practices): free upgrade, free meals and/or excursions, other added extras (e.g. free sports, free childcare)
  • Ask for them to send you a photo of a) your exact room and b) the view from the window
  • Pay your deposit by credit card - so you are covered in the event of no-performance by the hotel
  • Get that all confirmed in writing

A bonus will be the fact that you will be on the hotel's unofficial list of guests saving them that stonking great commission - and how do you think that might alter their attitude towards you on your stay?

And finally: if you do manage to bundle up all the so-called advantages of booking your trip through an OTA and gain a marginal financial saving (do tell us if you do!) what will that be set against the goodwill of the hotel when you book direct? Do you want a happy holiday or a cheaper holiday? By following the six steps set out above you should achieve both - every time.

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