Expert opinion here:
I used to travel all the time with music and comedy shows, and have worked in the hotel industry for a little under 15 years. I have stayed in literally hundreds of hotels all over the US, from $800/night luxury penthouses to tiny old places where I literally got a tarp and sleeping bag out of the car, just so I wouldn't have to touch the sheets. Since 2000, I've worked for two different companies in a total of 8 different propeties in two states.
I WILL NEVER BOOK A ROOM ONLINE
Let's say our standard price on a room night (what we call the "rack rate") is $100. Our AAA discount is 10%- Now, we'll give a 10% discount to pretty much anyone. You go online and book through a website for $89. Good for you- You saved $11. But, then the website takes their commission of 40% and sends us the rest of our money. Your buddy Bob calls us and books directly- He politely asks if we can do any better on the rate, and we give him the 10% discount.
You paid $89. Of this, the hotel gets $53.40
Bob paid $90. The hotel keeps all of it.
First, your choice of how to book tells me something: Bob wants to stay here. He specifically sought us out and called us personally. You picked the lowest rate from a list (and may not even have known what hotel you were booking!). Bob is probably coming back his next time through. You will stay at whoever gives you the steepest discount. Also, not for nothing, but we're getting paid almost twice as much for Bob's room.
So, who do I value more as a guest? If a pipe breaks, and I need to move people from the East wing, which of you gets the free upgrade to the whirlpool suite, and which gets the basement room with the broken air conditioner?
Secondly, let's look at what you get for your $1 savings:
You can't cancel or make changes without a fee- Sometimes the entire amount you paid. Seriously- Pick any website and read the fine print. Right now. I'll wait. Bob, on the other hand, can call and make changes whenever he wants. If he cancels his stay, chances are he won't have to pay anything.
They don't guarantee your room type. When Bob was on the phone, I told him exactly what rooms I had available, and he's guaranteed the room he booked, or if I need to shuffle things, a free upgrade. You get the room the website agreed to buy from us six months ago- So if that room happens to be a smoking room with 1 bed, that's what you and your two asthmatic friends get. Sorry about that.
You may need to pay extra for certain things like a cot or to bring a pet. If Bob is nice to me, I might comp those. If I do charge him, he'd know about it from the start, and it won't be a surprise when he checks in. You probably weren't informed of this policy, and quite frankly, with the discount you're getting, I need to squeeze whatever I can out of you.
Special requests might not be honored- Or even seen! Some hotels and some websites have computers that directly connect with each other. Make a reservation online, and it goes directly into my system. Others send us a fax with your information and we have to enter it manually. In either case, sometimes they send us every detail you enter into their site, and sometimes all we get is “NAME, 1 ROOM”.
How far in advance did you make that reservation? Because we might not have it yet. See above. This process can take anywhere from less than a second after you hit “confirm reservation”, to several hours. I have lost count of the number of times a guest has shown up and said “I just made a reservation from the airport”, and ends up sitting around while I call XXXXXX.com and remind them to fax me their info.
Oh, also, some websites are better than others about making sure things like pictures and the list of amenities are up to date. Good luck.
A website also won't be able to tell you that the weekend you've chosen coincides with that big, loud wedding party, or the scheduled bridge closure between here and your business meeting. Or that we were running a special where you can get a free upgrade to an oceanview room if you also eat dinner at our partner restaurant. Call me directly and I'll tell you all of that, plus which exit to take to avoid that heavy traffic area- And it's not the one Mapquest says it is.
Now, let's look at just why hotels hate these websites so much:
One, they've commoditized hotel rooms. We spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars making our property unique, comfortable, and tailored to our guests' needs. The place across town rents by the hour and hasn't remodeled since the 80s. WE ARE NOT EQUAL. Even when I was splitting my hours between two company properties a few blocks from each other- Both were equivilent quality , but one had full kitchens and was set up for long term stays, while the other was literally on the beach- step out of your room and be on sand- Two completely different selling features. And yet, online, we are all just an available number of beds- the only difference is price.
Two, they are standing between us and our guests. Look- I would love to be able to help you with your specific request, but you're not paying me- The third party that you did pay is paying me, and I have to answer to them, not you. They control what information you have about our property. They dictate prices, discounts, and seasonal changes.
Seriously, we provide the products, we provide the service. The websites decide who will see which properties, and how much we will be paid- And if we don't like it, we can just not do business with them- and take our chances being seen instead of a business who spends virtually their entire operating cost on advertising and SEO.
These websites are to the hotel industry what the insurance companies are to health care, and what ISPs will be to the internet once we lose net neutrality.
I'm going to leave you with one final true story.
Many years ago, we did business with a major booking website (I won't say which one). Someone would book a room online and give their credit card number, which the website would charge. The guest would stay at the hotel, and at the end of the month, the website would pay us for everyone who had stayed. (Nice business model, since they earned interest on that money all month, and kept all them money from no-shows)
At one point, they had fallen three months behind on their bill. At this same time, there were rumors floating around of bankruptcy and hostile takeovers (a couple months later, they merged with another major company). We were worried we would never get paid for those rooms- and at the time, it accounted for a good chunk of our business- they owed us well over $50,000 by this point.
So, here we have a third party which is taking money from people for a service we provide, yet not paying us for the service. We had no choice but to tell them we would no longer honor their reservations until they settled up.
They neglected to inform their customers- Our guests. This led to.... issues.
At one point, I informed a guest that we couldn't honor his reservation, but I had a room available if he'd like to pay for it himself. He was rightfully upset. I explained that he'd paid people who were not authorized to take his money. He called the website from his cellphone right in front of me. They called me back in front of him.
“You have to give him the room, you signed a contract!”
“Yes- the contract you defaulted on when you stopped paying your bill three months ago. If you want to give me a valid credit card, I'll be happy to settle up with you and check in your customer, but I can't continue to extend you more credit when you haven't paid me for your last 400+ transactions. We told you this in writing over two weeks ago.”
The guest heard this and ended up paying for the room himself, then suing the website to get his money back. A couple days later, they settled up- But several dozen reservations were affected during that time.
Anyway, your best bet is to go online to do your research, and then call the hotel to book directly. You might get the same rate. You will likely pay an extra $5-$15. It's worth it. You'll get a better room and better treatment.
any other questions about how the hotel industry works, feel free to ask....