You may hear or see ads about “booking direct”…but then there’s all those ads (Hello, Captain Obvious from Hotels.com, we’re looking at you…) and they seem to offer you some great deals too. You could book with Captain Obvious (or any of the other sites) but should you? As a traveler, what does that really mean for you?
Third party websites or OTA’s (online travel agencies) collect inventory from lodging properties at a certain rate and then sell them to you. Sounds simple enough, right? Would Captain Obvious steer you wrong? In a word, YES.
So here are some things to keep in mind when booking travel:
Save money by booking direct. Keep in mind the posted price on the OTA may look cheaper…but often there are additional fees added on as you check out, making it no less expensive than booking directly, and in some cases, you’re actually paying more. Additionally, being part of a rewards program (such as Hilton Honors or IHG Rewards Club) can not only provide discounted rates for that brand, but also earns points towards free stays. Check with the independent properties (those not “branded” with a franchise) as they may offer repeat visitor incentives as well.
While fluctuations in supply and demand can increase rates, there are specific instances of price gouging by third party sites as well. One example, though not specifically in the Cadillac area, was last winter when the Mackinac Bridge closed due to seriously inclement weather, stranding some travelers. Almost immediately, these third party sites (and NOT the hotels themselves) were advertising rooms for several times the normal cost…meaning the hotel would have received a minimal amount of revenue for the room from the third party, and they would have pocketed the remainder. Unfortunately, the public perception was that the hotels themselves were price gouging opportunists, which was not the case.
Support your local businesses. Now more than ever, hoteliers need support. During Covid-19, hotels lost significant revenue and laid off a lot of staff. Thankfully the Cadillac area is rebounding, but every dollar helps in the recovery. Third party sites charge significant commissions to these lodging properties to book rooms. While some of the lodging properties in our area are franchised, the local hotels don’t operate under a large corporately-owned structure. In addition to paying OTA commissions when applicable, they are also paying for the franchise fees. If you see a lower price online, contact the property directly and ask if they’ll price match.
Ensure what you reserved, is what you’re actually getting. Have you ever checked into a room that isn’t what you expected? Whether you needed two beds instead of one, or perhaps the hotel just isn’t what you anticipated. Unfortunately, the front desk staff may or may not be able to refund you. If you have an issue with a room that was booked through an OTA and you need to cancel or want a refund, you’ll have to do it through that OTA. The hotel may offer to help accommodate you, but you paid the OTA, not them. It can be quite a hassle. Many years ago (before working in hospitality and learned better!) I had used an OTA where I could “bid” on the price for a room but couldn’t see what it was until after I purchased it. Even after noting the parameters (minimum star rating, user review rating, etc.) I was given confirmation for a stay at a hotel property that fell short of expectations (to put it nicely). I immediately contacted their customer service which was not helpful at all, and I was stuck with a room that I really didn’t want to go stay in. Additionally, once a reservation is made through the OTA, any changes (such as cancellations or date changes) must be made through their customer service and not the hotel’s front desk.
Special requests are usually not conveyed to the hotel. Need a first floor room, or to be next to someone else staying the same nights? Special requests made through OTA’s may not be shared with the hotel; and/or may not be able to be accommodated. Requesting an early check in? I once stayed at a hotel in the Detroit area that would not allow OTA reservations to check in earlier than 3pm, while others that booked through the brand website could.
They are all owned by the same group of companies. A LOT of OTA brands are actually owned by the same few companies. For example, this is the Expedia Group:
And this is the Priceline group:
While you may think all of these different sites are offering better or competitive rates over each other, they are one in the same. Research reviews on whichever site you prefer, then please book online or call the property directly. But wait… there’s more:
Beware of misleading ads. Even when you THINK it’s the property itself, unfortunately many consumers are duped into booking agents that are not affiliated with the actual property. An example below, when searching for Hampton Inn Cadillac Michigan the following results appear. There are only THREE links on this entire screenshot that connect you directly to Hilton, and the other FOUR redirect to a third party site. And that’s just the first few search results!
Do you know which ones are directly associated with the hotel?
Travel shouldn’t be stressful, and we want you to enjoy your visit to Cadillac! Our website www.cadillacmichigan.com/stay will ALWAYS have the direct lodging property information to book your room.
Final thoughts from one of our local hotel General Managers:
The most common complaint we get is when the OTA books “whatever is available” and tells the guest it is “whatever they want to hear” and leaves it to the hotel to deal with solving the problem at check in. The main reason I would say would be just the level of service you get … if you book thru an OTA, they could care less if you complete the sale or what hotel or even what city you are going to, so they will tell you what you want to hear with no liability when the hotel seems to fall short, but really the hotel just never received the information/request in the first place! If you book direct through any property, they have a vested interest in you and your business. It matters to us as hoteliers that you show an interest in our property, and it’s in OUR best interest that you get what you asked for, or enjoy your stay, or want to come back. The OTA could care less if the guest gets what they want, or if they ever stay at the same property more than once.
More often than you would believe, the people who have a HORRIBLE experience with an OTA (they refused to let them cancel, or booked the wrong room, wrong date, wrong rate, not what they asked for, lied about this amenity or that, whatever the case may be to just complete the sale), where the guest started out angry – realized we are NOT to blame – then realized that we were trying to bend over backwards to make it up to them even though it was NOT our fault, appreciated it, and becomes a regular and one of our biggest fans!!
Check out all of our lodging properties and plan your visit at cadillacmichigan.com/stay