Comparison shopping for airfares and hotel rooms can be a complex and monotonous task. Many of us simply don't have time to visit all the major hotel or airline websites. It has become routine to use either a travel search engine such as Kayak.com, or an online travel company such as TripAdvisor, to compare fares and book travel.
Performing those searches certainly makes more sense than going to every relevant airline or hotel website. But when it comes time to buy, there can be benefits associated with adding another step: visit the website of the company that offers the best deal and buy directly from them.
Hotels and Airlines Want You to Buy Directly from Them
This approach often saves a booking fee the online travel agencies charge, but it also gives you more of a connection to the company with which you will be doing business.
Not everyone agrees.
In summer 2015, Marriott came out with a new marketing campaign called Best Rate. Guaranteed. The terms of that deal: book a Marriott room on any of the company's reservation channels (online or directly with the hotel by phone) and they will match any lower hotel rate you find elsewhere for the same hotel, room type, and reservation dates. In addition, they'll throw in a 25 percent discount on the room.
Within a short time, the American Society of Travel Agents issued a public statement on the Marriott offer. ASTA calls the chains approach "not only disparaging to travel agents, but also misleading to the traveling public." ASTA contends the offer is misleading because travel agents can find the same low price as is available to the consumer.
For years, airlines and hotel chains have urged consumers to eliminate third-party companies and make direct buys. Depending upon the situation, there can be advantages to do so.
Loyalty Points and Special Offers
Loyalty programs make sense for budget travelers who frequently are on the road. The best way to assure you'll get your miles and points is to deal directly with the company.
It is also true that when an airline is trying to fill seats, the best deals usually turn up on their own special offer pages rather than with a third-party company. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen as frequently as in years past, because airlines have cut flights on many routes, reducing seat availability and keeping prices at higher levels.
Early Booking Discounts
Another way hotels are trying to deal directly with consumers is an offer of discounts for early booking. Radisson's Advance Purchase Rate offers a discount of up to 20 percent for booking and paying well in advance of your stay. The savings increases with the time allowances, which come at seven, 14, and 21 days.
Wyndham Hotels recently offered to cut up to 25 percent from the best available rate for booking at least a week in advance at participating hotels, plus 500 bonus points.
One caveat: these discounts come off of the "best available rate," which varies by hotel and is subject to change.
Why add another layer of bureaucracy when you purchase a ticket or book a room? If there are problems, you might find it difficult to pinpoint the place where everything went wrong. When you book directly with the provider, there is a bit less confusion when complaints are lodged.
No one wants to think about the possibility of travel complaints, but in an age when complaints are rising and consumer satisfaction appears to be falling, it makes sense to allow for mistakes and possible make-goods.