Guide to Booking Travel: Direct vs. Third Party Sites
tl;dr: How does booking on third party sites compare with booking travel directly with the hotel or airline?
Ever gone to book a trip and ended up spending hours comparing tons of different websites to find what you need? Yeah, us too. You probably spent a lot of time on Online Travel Agencies (OTA’s) like Expedia, Booking.com, or Kayak. These sites aggregate rates from all over the web, and while it shows you a lot of options that seem great, booking with one of these sites instead of booking directly with a hotel or airline can actually cost you in more than just the price of the ticket.
Booking directly with a hotel or airline is the best way to make sure your trip goes smoothly, without paying an arm and a leg. But why is it so much better to book directly?
Booking Hotels Directly
Loyalty benefits: Most savvy travelers belong to one or more loyalty programs (Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors just to name a few). Earning points is one of the best parts of traveling for business because you can use those points later on a personal trip. But did you know that when you book a hotel on an OTA your loyalty information doesn’t pass through? Without that information you are missing out on a lot of benefits like:
- Member rates: If you have a loyalty account with a hotel brand, you can usually save 5-10% off the advertised rate.
- Points: As we mentioned earlier, the points you earn on each hotel stay can be used later on for a discounted room or even a free hotel stay.
- Status: If your loyalty information doesn’t pass through, than any status you have with a hotel brand does not show up. And if you travel so much that you have status with a brand, then you want to get those benefits everytime you travel.
- Extras - When your status does pass through, you can have access to a ton of extras like free room upgrades, free wifi, free breakfast and more, so it’s important to book directly to make sure you are reaping all the rewards you deserve.
Customer Service: Calling customer service can sometimes feel like a hassle, and when you don’t book directly with the hotel that hassle will only get worse. You may be surprised to hear this, but booking directly with a hotel brand will usually get you much better customer service overall. Why? Because you’re dealing with the hotel directly instead of an OTA’s customer service team. That means you’re either speaking with someone working directly at the hotel you’re staying at, or someone who works specifically for that brand of hotel. With an OTA you are working with a call center, talking to someone who is managing tons of reservations for several different hotel brands. The person working directly at a hotel has greater ability to pull some strings to help you out. Someone at an OTA is not an employee of that hotel and can only do so much for you based on the policies that OTA has negotiated with that hotel brand.
Want in on another secret? Hotels prefer you to book directly with them rather than an OTA, so they will be much more willing to honor special requests for you. If there’s the option to upgrade a customer’s room and they are choosing between a customer who booked directly and a customer who booked on an OTA, they will choose the direct customer 100% of the time.
Another benefit here is that if you book directly with a hotel they are far less likely to lose your reservation. Think about it, when you book with an OTA they are taking your info and passing it through to that hotel. Usually everything works correctly, but if it doesn’t then your information does not pass through and no reservation is created. Showing up to a hotel after a long flight only to find out that your reservation is not there is enough to bring any business traveler to tears. And your only recourse is to call the customer service line for the OTA you booked for and hope they can do something.
In that same situation, if you booked directly with the hotel and they somehow lost your reservation, they would either find you a room in their hotel or another hotel of the same brand nearby. That room would be comp’d, and they would transport you there on their own dime. You’d probably receive some free room service for the hassle too.
Policies: It’s important to check the cancellation policies on every hotel room you book, whether it’s booked directly or not. But one of the benefits of booking directly is that the cancellation policies will likely be much more flexible. With most rates you can cancel up to 24 hours before your stay. On the other hand, a lot of OTA’s offer slightly lower rates that are nonrefundable, meaning there is no way to cancel once you’ve booked. And if you mistakenly booked a non-refundable rate through an OTA and immediately call to cancel, there’s a good chance they won’t be able to help you. But if you booked a non-refundable rate directly with the hotel and called to cancel, they may be more likely to work it out with you, especially if you are part of their loyalty program.
Booking Flights Directly
Loyalty Programs: Just like with hotels, you can really benefit from being part of an airline loyalty program. Every time you fly with that airline you will earn miles which can be used later for discounted or free flights and upgrades. But just like with hotels, that loyalty account info does not pass through when you book through an OTA. You are losing things like:
- Status: Having status on an airline can get you a ton of perks and free upgrades. When you get to a certain status you are able to bump up your class of service (economy to premium economy, business to first, etc). Imagine showing up and asking for your upgrade and being told you were not eligible because you didn’t book directly. And then sitting in a middle seat from Boston to San Francisco. No, thank you.
- Extras: Once you start accruing lots of frequent flier miles, you start getting access to awesome extras like free changes, free checked bags, priority boarding, and the ability to enter the airport lounges where you have access to food and sometimes alcohol (and the most coveted airport amenities, a place to plug your phone in.)
Customer service: You’re probably sensing a pattern here, but when you book directly with an airline you’ll receive better customer service overall. Remember, you’re dealing directly with the airline, not the OTA. For changes and cancellations, it’s much better to be able to call the airline directly, and they’ll be able to make changes for you. If you are speaking with a customer service rep from an OTA they won’t have access to make the same changes for you. (Of course if your company uses Lola.com, our 24/7 Travel Support team can make changes for you and will take care of all that without the need for you to contact anyone.)
Fares and Offers: Similar to a hotel offering a non-refundable rate, airlines have recently started offering basic economy rates. While these rates can be less expensive than a typical rate, they are as basic as you can get, and tend to cause more trouble then they are worth. You’re pretty much only guaranteed a spot on the plane, and anything else (seat selection, a carry-on, checked luggage) you will need to pay extra for. Plus they are completely non-refundable or changeable in any way. A lot of OTA’s make it difficult to find the actual fare you are booking, so it’s common to accidentally book a basic economy fare without realizing it. When you’re booking directly with the airline, they are much better at calling out what each fare class is, and what you get (or don’t get) with your purchase. Basic economy fares are such a hassle and hated so much by business travelers, that Lola doesn’t show them at all!
Sometimes you will see an offer for a specific credit card who has partnered with an airline or hotel. When you book travel on the airline or hotel you earn extra points, miles, rewards, etc. You have to book directly with the brand in order to receive these offers, and a lot of people don’t know this, and go for the cheaper rate on an OTA, thinking they are tricking the credit card company. They aren’t. It’s better to pay $250 and earn points for a future stay than pay $230 and earn nothing right?
By now, you probably get the gist. Booking hotels and flights directly gets you loyalty points, elevated customer service, and better deals. That’s why when you book on Lola.com it’s just like booking directly with these brands — loyalty points, customer service and all.
No matter what kind of trip you’re taking, you’ll be much less stressed with you book direct. Plus you could get some really awesome perks. And remember, booking with Lola.com is just like booking directly with hotels and airlines, so why not give it a try?