There is a long-lasting complex relationship between hotels and online travel agents (OTAs) like Booking, Expedia and similar websites. And while you, as a traveller, do not have to care about it, there are a few things you should know to make better buying decisions and make sure that you book at the best price and receive the best service.
What you as a traveller might not know:
Let's first clarify a few things that usually remain hidden from the wide audience but play a big role in the way the online booking ecosystem works:
The rate parity - this is a rule, just one of many, that most online booking websites apply and it states that hotels are not allowed to offer lower rates than the ones they publish on the OTA site. Hotels, on the other hand, are constantly looking for (and finding) ways to bypass this rule and attract more direct sales. In fact, hotels are more often able to offer you a better deal if you contact them directly.
The commission levels - these vary from site to site and depend on the hotel size and the conditions of the particular contract like constant room availability, rate parity and many others. In general, the travel site commissions form a pretty high (and rising) percent of the price you pay for your accommodation. The average commissions paid by hotels are as high as 20% and up. Yes, 20% and up, that's one fifth. Plus other charges like priority listings, displaying contact details and so on. You do the math.
Special requests and booking modifications. If you book your stay with an online travel agent, you often have a field to fill in any special requests and remarks like food allergies, lower floor and so on. Or, you might need to arrive a day early or change your room type for some reason. In all cases, travel sites are not able to confirm and guarantee these services. Hotels, on the other hand, have the full power to observe your special requirements but only if they have the full control of the booking, which means no booking mediator is involved.
Loyalty programs - usually not applicable when booking is made via a third party website. Most independent hotels and chains will only reward your booking if it is made through any of their own sales channels. Booking mediators can not guarantee that you will receive any? loyalty bonuses for your stay and in the general case you will not.
So, what could you get when you contact the hotel directly?
Better deal. It could be in the form of a room-, food- or other amenity discount, free incentives (wi-fi, spa, transfer), room upgrades and other complementary services. There is a reason travel sites do not show you the contact details of the accommodation provider. First, they do not want you to easily get in touch with the hotel to compare prices. And second, they use this as another source of profit by including business information as a paid service.
Better service. It is a common practice for hotels to treat direct bookers and loyal customers better. For example, the room assignment process - quiet rooms or those with better view are allocated first and to the bookings that are made through a direct channel like phone or own website. Then, when a room does not meet the requirements of the guest for any reason, the third party bookings are again treated differently. Also have in mind that hotels are often not allowed to make a compromise and change a booking made through a travel site even if they wish to. So don't be upset if you get a reply like "Sorry, we are not able to accommodate your request.", as this could be yet another restrictive contract clause.
Last but in no way least - support the one who delivers
It is called responsible purchasing. In the case with hotels and travel booking websites, hoteliers are like the farmers that produce our food but get only a small fraction of the money we pay for that food in the supermarket. If you wonder why they are in this game in the first place, there is one simple answer - the massive online exposure that makes their property visible to travellers like you. But since the majority of websites are owned by two huge corporations, the game becomes rough and unequal. It is hotels that are taking care of us during our stay, not travel agents, and what we can give in return is to pay them instead of mediators. In other words, value the service provider to be valued as a customer.
We, the travellers, need hotels to have a place to stay in while away from home. We love them to please us with memorable service and great amenities. We want to pay a good price for what we get and be treated like VIPs. And there is one thing we can do to get what we desire - get in touch with the hotel (website, email, phone), book directly and build a relationship. Even if the price is the same, it is fair to pay for services not for commissions and we will be rewarded in other terms.