Would you prefer to pay the price you’re quoted online for a hotel stay, or to get a deal with a 10pc discount and a free glass of Prosecco on arrival?
Let’s clink our glasses to the latter. It sounds like a no-brainer, but every week, millions of punters searching for nights away continue to pay higher rates and miss out on added value — despite all sorts of advertising to the contrary.
With inflation looking set to send the price of travel and holidays skyrocketing this year, it pays to take a look at how you book.
Online Travel Agencies (OTAs, as they’re known) like booking.com, hotels.com, Tripadvisor and Expedia are super-useful for searching for accommodation in an area and getting a snapshot of reviews.
Similar to Airbnb, they also offer smaller properties a platform to reach potential guests all over the world.
But they typically charge hotels and guesthouses booking fees of 15-20pc, and the rankings returned on your search can be influenced “by commission paid and other benefits”, such as whether a hotel has preferred partner status, as booking.com notes.
Personally, I use these sites to hunt around, but always check in with the hotel before booking.
A direct booking saves it the OTA commission, which leaves room to manoeuvre on prices and package deals. It also opens up direct communication and the chance for hotels to start a relationship with a possible repeat visitor — something that strengthens your hand for a sweetener.
That 10pc discount and glass of bubbles I mentioned is on offer at Tulfarris Hotel & Golf Resort in Co Wicklow (it also offers free cancellation and priority on room upgrades for direct bookings).
Other examples are Inch House in Stradbally, Co Laois, which says it offers 10pc off and a bottle of wine for guests who book direct, and the Old Bank B&B in Co Limerick, which guarantees direct rates are €10 cheaper than OTA prices.
A resort I checked in Florida this week had another wheeze — “free” breakfasts for direct bookings (in the US, breakfast is featured as an extra a little more often than it is here). It’s a global phenomenon.
Better still, pick up the phone. A hotel in Carlow knocked €20 off a two-room rate recently after I simply asked, “Is that the best you can do?” If a hotel can’t move on the room price, a chat with human beings in reservations also allows you to ask about better rooms, a multi-night discount, or extras like resort credit, a package including dinner, extra cancellation flexibility, and so on.
Of course, direct bookings aren’t always cheaper. Sometimes OTAs can undercut hotels or offer ‘price match’ services, subject to T&Cs. And there’s no doubt about the convenience of booking on a big website and saving your preferences.
But direct booking can also send more of your money to local businesses dealing with spiralling costs, post-Covid recovery, and a staffing crisis.
It’s one travel tip I’ll keep repeating.