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Checking out the best price - online or direct with the hotel


Hotel reception

Hotel reception

Hotel reception

Q I am told that the cheapest place to go is the hotel's own website, rather than a booking website. Is this true?

A Sometimes the cheapest place to get a hotel room is with the traditional travel agent.

There is a blindingly simple reason for this. Hotels don't like to publicise the fact that they are doing a deal.

The best deal in the industry, the really cheap price, can easily be hidden away as part of a package by travel agents and tour operators.

Things are changing rapidly in the travel industry, but this will never change. Some of these hotel prices are so cheap that you wonder how the hotel can survive. A giant tour operator buying hotel rooms in a resort buys thousands of rooms and takes them for an entire season for as little as €12 a night. You won't get anything near that when you browse the internet.

Even you are doing a hotel-only, the best price that will be given to the trade, who buy in bulk, will usually be better than is available on the internet. Travel agents have so many ways of buying these beds that are not available to the consumer, it is hard to beat their price. They use bedbanks, about half a dozen hotel databases that consumers don't have access to., and systems run by companies such as Amadeus and Travelport.

Don't be fooled by the claim that the internet has cut out the middle man. The internet IS the middle man, and most of these new powerful middlemen take a huge cut of the price you pay.

The bigger and more powerful the site the more commission they will charge. Irish people have booked holidays in Irish hotels to help support the local company only for 20pc of the fee to end up in the coffers of a big internet company in Connecticut, Bellevue or Atlanta.

Hotels like to get as much of the booking money as they can themselves, so it is in their interest to give the best rates on their own website.

They are supposed to give a legal guarantee to internet wholesalers that they will never undersell them. Most of them stick to this, although sometimes they do a deal over the phone, secure in the knowledge that the big internet companies won't find out.

Another way around the price is the flash sale, the e-shots sent out by companies offering incredibly cheap prices for a limited time only, usually 24 hours.

These companies negotiate mega-cheap rates because they are powerful and have a record of delivering big numbers. Hotels don't like them. Their markup is enormous, sometimes 50pc of the rate.

Nowadays people research an average of 22 websites before they book a holiday. The entire booking process has become so time consuming and complicated that your best starting point in any hotel search is to go to a price comparison site. The best of these is trivago.com. It draws down information from all the big internet hotel companies, and sorts them by price. Bear in mind that an aggregator of prices will sometimes be a few hours out of date with the information but it is the beat place to start a search. It can also help establish what sort of hotel you want.

Then go back to the hotel's own website. Then, if you really think you can do better, phone and try and negotiate a better deal.

Finally, some of the most beautiful hotels particularly the old family run businesses and accommodation treasures like the convents of Italy, are not on the Internet at all.

Email questions to ecorry@independent.ie