4 reasons to consider booking your next hotel stay through an online travel agency

Yesterday

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Although conventional wisdom is that it is better to book directly through a service provider and avoid an online travel agency, that’s not always the best course of action when it comes to hotels.

Let’s see what factors you might want to consider before booking through an OTA for your next hotel stay.

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There’s a notable price difference

The first factor to take into consideration is the price. If an OTA isn’t less expensive than the direct hotel option, I wouldn’t go any further.

Hotels typically have price parity agreements with OTAs, meaning that the lowest published price on a hotel’s website should, in theory, be the lowest price that you see anywhere else online. However, in my experience, this isn’t always the case. And OTAs can still offer their own promotions, like Hotels.com reward nights or Priceline’s frequent Express Deals coupon offers.

If I’m booking a hotel, I also always search through an OTA to get a rough sense of what nightly pricing looks like at that destination. If you land on a property that you’re really interested in, always compare pricing between the OTA and the pricing that’s directly on the hotel website or app. This even holds true if you plan to use hotel points so you can see if it’s really worth redeeming them.

Nevertheless, if you come across a lower price on an OTA, that doesn’t mean you should immediately jump on it. Some hotel chains offer a price-match guarantee and you should be on the lookout for other opportunities like hotel sales, senior discounts and AAA members-only deals.

You’re booking (and staying) last minute

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

The next factor is related to timing — specifically, how far in advance your stay will be. One of the most frustrating aspects of OTAs is that they’re a middleman. There is an extra layer of complexity when you have to deal with a third party, particularly when it comes to changes or cancellations. However, the concern about a cancellation can (almost) be thrown out the window if you’re booking a hotel at the very last minute.

In non-pandemic times, I might even go so far as saying that if you are confident in your selected hotel and travel dates — and you weigh all of the factors on this list — it could be enough to consider the OTA option since sites like Expedia and Hotels.com often have access to special pricing the closer you get to the date of the stay. COVID-19 has changed this assumption since reopening plans can be rolled back at a moment’s notice, hotels or OTAs could close for good, or some other unforeseen circumstance related to the pandemic could foil your reservation.

If you’re booking at a moment’s notice, the odds of such problems happening decrease.

Hotel loyalty perks don’t add value

If you are one of the many travelers who don’t hold hotel elite status, a discussion of loyalty perks is an entirely moot point for you.

However, for everyone else, if you want to make use of your hotel loyalty benefits, book directly and not through an OTA. That includes perks when at the property, such as free breakfast or late checkout, as well as loyalty earnings such as elite night credit or points.

Breakfast at the Hyatt Andaz Capital Gate Abu Dhabi (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
Breakfast at the Hyatt Andaz Capital Gate Abu Dhabi. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Related: Best credit cards for hotel elite status

I have Hilton Diamond status by virtue of holding the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. Despite this perk, I have come across instances when saving cash by making a last-minute booking through an OTA outweighs what I value my elite benefits to be. This is obviously a personal decision when it comes down to it. Is the chance of receiving a room upgrade or breakfast credit worth forgoing the OTA’s cost savings? What about that late checkout benefit or extra points?

If the price is right, I typically won’t hesitate to skip out on elite benefits for shorter stays, especially for lower-tier hotels.

Related: Don’t book hotel stays direct if you want to earn maximum American Loyalty Points

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

You want to use credit card points

Besides transferring points to hotel partners, some credit card points can also be used on the company’s respective travel portals. This is a particularly useful strategy if you’re looking at hotels that aren’t part of a major chain.

You can minimize out-of-pocket expenses by using credit card points at a fixed value. Using Chase as an example, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Ink Business Preferred Credit Cards offer 1.25 cents per point when redeeming hotels through the portal, while the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 1.5 cents per point.

Even if this is below the TPG valuation of 2 cents per Ultimate Rewards point (thanks to the value of transfer partners), sometimes it’s preferable to just not spend the extra cash.

Bottom line 

If the price knocks it out of the park or you’re reserving within a couple of weeks of travel and can’t get enough value out of loyalty perks, then OTA hotel bookings can still make plenty of sense.

Combined together, these are a lot of qualifiers, but I’ve managed to take advantage of many OTA reservations using these exact criteria. At the end of the day, be sure to know all of the uncertainties involved to make an informed booking decision.

Featured photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy. 

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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