I just wanted to make a single-night hotel reservation for our upcoming road trip. Even though it will be after Labor Day, the coastal town is small and touristy, so I didn’t want to take the chance of waiting until we got there.
First, I went online to check out options and reviews on a few hotel booking sites. I wanted something not too pricey but close enough to the embarcadero, shops, and restaurant area to be walkable. Fortunately, there were several reasonable choices with vacancies for the night we’d be there. Easy enough so far.
Many people would simply choose a hotel and click over to the booking site’s reservation page, but I don’t like to do this. I prefer to make my reservations either by calling the hotel directly or by going on their website. I may be old school, but I’ve often found that doing this has a few advantages:
- Better rates
- Better discounts
- Better cancelation policies
- Better communication
I typed in the name of the hotel and found a website that appeared to be theirs; the landing page gave no indication that it was not. I looked to see if they offered any discounts (AAA and AARP are the most common) but couldn’t find any. That should have been my first clue, but I figured since it was a tourist town, maybe they didn’t need to offer incentives. I made our reservations and printed out the receipt. That’s when I noticed something in the small print that concerned me. The cancelation policy was very unclear. Despite the verbiage, “free cancelation,” there was enough gobbledygook to indicate that “free” might be a euphemism for “not free.”
So, to get clarification, I did what I should have done first, and called the hotel directly.
It turns out that I hadn’t, in fact, made reservations on the hotel’s website. I did have a reservation, but I had made it through a third-party, exactly what I didn’t want to do. I asked the woman—an actual, very nice, human at the actual hotel—about their rates, if they offered any discounts, and what their cancelation policy was. Although their beginning rate was similar, they did offer a AAA discount, and their cancelation policy was 100% refund up to a day before.
Following a brief conversation about our mutual dislike of these third-party booking sites, I asked if she could cancel my original reservation and book us direct. After trying unsuccessfully, she suggested that I contact the booking site directly. She would hold the room and wait to hear back from me. So much nicer than a computer.
I won’t go into all the details but suffice it to say, the booking site did not make it easy to cancel. But, after calling a few different numbers, getting in a few automated phone tree loops, and having my call cut off, I finally reached an agent in India. She canceled my reservation, and I called the hotel back to re-book. Done.
Like so many “conveniences” afforded us by the interwebs, these booking sites come with a price. Not only can they end up costing more, but their cancelation policies are also often stricter, and communication is challenging or nonexistent. By calling the hotel directly, I saved money, have a generous, understandable cancelation policy, and learned a bit more about the area where we’ll be staying.
This experience did nothing to lessen my discomfort about booking through these sites. They are fine for doing research but, while they offer expediency, they don’t offer the good communication and human touch I prefer.
108 thoughts on “Booking On Line vs. On Phone”
Great insights on the current state of booking lodging in these crazy United (?) States. But you had me at the photo – Morro Bay! One of our fav places – lots of memories for us as a family. Even Pismo is cool. The central coast is way underrated.
Unfortunately, it will be just a quick stop on our way, but I hope to get there early enough to do some wandering. We love the central coast too (and it’s nice and – relatively – cool now).
Old-school or not, I agree that often it is better to call the hotel direct. It only takes a little effort and someone can answer any questions.
Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I feel like we get better service when we show up – like we’ve already established a connection. And yes, those booking sites can’t answer the type of questions we often have as visitors.
I am the same mostly, but there is one booking site I like and found to be very clear with all my experiences using them.
I like that rock too. It’s been sometime since we last visited there. It’s lovely there and a place we thought we might like to retire to, but it’s too costly in almost everywhere in CA now.
I’m glad you found a site you like (care to share which one?). I’ll probably stick to direct contact whenever possible but sometimes it’s necessary to book online.
I will often check out the real estate shop windows just to see what the prices are in various areas. I imagine Morro Bay is pretty pricey.
Some friends retired to a town just south of it and so far are very happy, but they don’t know if they’ll be able to stay if prices and taxes keep going up and up and up.
Booking.com is the one I have used and have no complaints about. I’ve also used Expedia in years past and was happy. Like you I do tend to book directly though.
I don’t think those sites are necessarily bad, I just don’t like to be fooled. I think the two sites you mentioned are pretty straightforward… but more expensive than direct.
I found over the summer that Booking.com was higher than booking direct so I booked direct.
I have made that same mistake. I clicked on a website that I thought was the hotel. We had stayed at the hotel many times before — but I had landed on a third party website. So annoying.
Very annoying! I don’t like to feel like I’m being tricked. And then to make canceling so much of a hassle, was infuriating (some bad words may have been said to my computer).
I am impressed you worked your way out of the reservation. I stuck with it.
Whew! Good for you for persevering. And so nice that the live hotel clerk was a gem.
I got the feeling she deals with this a lot. She seemed very appreciative that I called direct.
Wow! Thanks for sharing this. What a hassle that was to cancel! But worth the effort, and now you know. And now so do we! Thank you for that!
Good thing you noticed. Like you, I prefer to go direct rather than thru 3rd parties.
I think the hotels would rather offer their guests a discount than pay a commission to the booking site. Btw, it looks like you can comment on my site again. Yay!
It was a bit of a challenge. Problem was all on MY end. For some reason I had to sign in, and my password wouldn’t work. It took me a while to realize I needed to use my user name instead of my email.
Sent from my iPhone
Several people, including me, were having problems commenting on various sites. Maybe WP has fixed it.
I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised that they made canceling so difficult. Customer service isn’t their strong suit.
Agreed! I usually like to call the hotel direct (after checking out what the discount hotel booking site is offering, for comparison). I mention that I’ve looked online but prefer my $ go directly to the hotel and they are always happy to at least meet the online discounted price…so far. And like you noted, you often get better deals and a better cancellation policy amongst other perks, like developing a relationship with a real human being on the other end of the phone. Great post, Janis!
I guess it’s a matter of survival, especially for the smaller hotels, to be on these sights. Like you, I’ve always received the same or, often, a better rate and a more generous cancellation policy.
No disagreement here. Once I booked through a site for Key West. Our room was a really good price (that was the first red flag). It was along a walkway and everyone walking by looked in. We had to keep our drapes closed all the time. Also all the rooms were water front but ours. We were next to the utility area. We couldn’t upgraded on site either. Boogers.
Those are the types of questions I like to ask an actual, live person at the facility. I hate having a room that the multitudes walk by and look in… and no water view when all others have one… yikes!
I’ve been caught several times in this same situation by clicking on what I think is the hotel chain’s ad in the list of sites that come up. I now look at the URL of the site and if it isn’t completely identified with the hotel I’m looking for, I leave and go back to the list. Better warned than caught in a booking that you regret. Take care and know you’re not alone in this!!
I’m usually pretty good at checking too, but the sites are getting better disguising themselves. I’m happy that I was able to cancel it (and, of course, that the reservation was legit in the first place) and start over. I’ll be more careful next time.
Oh my, this is another lesson to be learned, and I appreciate your sharing. I usually book online, but directly with the hotel website. I ‘belong’ to a couple of them so if their prices are competitive, I sign into my account and book from there. Again, thank you for sharing.
We signed up for a few of those “clubs” too. They don’t cost anything, and they offer a few perks… all for our email addresses. I have noticed a bit of extra service by being a member.
I have to admit, we have a hotels.com account and use them exclusively. Our experience has been very positive, and for every 10 nights we book, we get a free room. We do so much traveling, I’ve lost track of the number of free nights we’ve redeemed!
Madtown Migrant… love it! Now you’ll need a new gravatar.
I honestly have no idea whose site I was on when I first booked the reservation. I did my research on something like Expedia or Booking but when I tried to get on the hotel’s site, there was no indication that I wasn’t on the actual site. That’s what made me a bit annoyed.
I think if I did a lot of traveling, especially for work, it could make sense to go for the freebees.
See, I figured I’d change my name first, then the gravatar. Just to confuse people less!
I’m glad you did that… I’d be totally confused. Best to sneak up on us.
Sadly, we have lost so much of that personal touch when it comes to customer service. I tend to be careful when looking up websites, ensuring I am on their actual site and not an “ad” or third party site. Good to hear you were able to cancel (with some perseverance), and rebook in the end!
I thought I was being careful but, obviously, I need to up my game. I agree about the loss of personal touches. I fear the younger generations won’t even be aware of what they are missing.
We have the same issues in Australia as I recently found out
Good posty. I agree. I’ve found it almost always pays to deal directly with the hotel … or any other travel venue. Airbnb is the one exception. They make sure you can’t contact directly — it’s fard to do even if you’ve been to the place before.
Yes, Airbnb makes sure they insert themselves as best they can. I have found though that you can sometimes rebook directly through the host if you ever return. Airbnb doesn’t like it but it saves everyone money.
The same thing happened when I tried booking a flight with Westjet. Without paying attention, I booked a flight with a US website that looked like the official airline company. It looked like a great deal at first. But the fine print indicated that the price was in US dollars. What a disappointment!
Yikes, that can make a big difference. I found that I had to look really close when I made reservations for our Canadian trip last year.
Great customer service is at the top of my list and will keep me coming back. I, too, prefer booking directly with the hotel for all the reasons everyone has mentioned. I don’t travel much at all but I’ll certainly be careful about whose website I’m on when I book reservations.
The websites are getting better and better at disguising themselves. This experience will make me even more careful.
Like Judy, we belong to the “frequent flyer” club for a couple of hotel chains, and I’ll book rooms directly online using our membership number. The cynic within me bets the site you stumbled upon is staying just inside the law. Thanks for the heads up, Janis!
Interestingly, reserving campsites is a little different. Because we favor state and federal campsites (as opposed to privately owned RV parks) and because they have online reservation systems, I book all of our campsites online through those reservation systems. Federal campgrounds use Recreation.gov. Many states use ReserveAmerica.com; those that don’t have their own state specific reservation system. Unlike the world of hotels, there isn’t a huge number of booking sites to wade through. And the cost is what it is. Better deals can’t be found elsewhere. However, even though the two major booking sites have call centers, you actually have a better chance of getting the campsite you want online. Some popular campgrounds sell out within minutes of when the booking window opens for a particular day. If you hit the reservation button as the clock strikes the appropriate hour, you might have a chance. If you’re on the phone with a call center rep trying to explain what you want, you’re probably out of luck. So, reserving online is almost always better. Intriguing differences.
That’s interesting about campsite reservations. Was it always online, or did you start out making your reservations by phone?
Federal parks have been online for some time and so far the states I’ve looked at are all online. Some systems are good, some a lacking. I don’t usually stay at paid campgrounds or parks, but just recently grabbed a spot on the California coast for our return trip to So Cal. Process was easy but what is lacking our the details…can I see the ocean or not, am I 10’ or 50’ away from someone, is there any shade or am I fully exposed. You can make a phone call but it is true that taking the time, may not be worth it if it’s a popular park.
This is so much different from when we went camping as a family when I was young. I know my parents often made reservations for the most popular parks, but I remember crossing our fingers a few times when we got to a campsite late. Of course, we just needed a spot for our 5-person tent and a picnic table 🙂
I don’t know when the state and federal governments began using an online reservation system. I’ve been using ReserveAmerica and Recreation.gov since 2007 – the year after we bought our first travel trailer.
Interestingly, back in the day (40+ years ago), when Alan and I were tent camping we often stayed at KOA campgrounds. It’s a franchise and each KOA would call ahead to the next one on our itinerary to reserve a campsite for us. No computers in sight, just a handy dandy rotary dial phone!
My husband typically handles hotel reservations and we’ve had nothing but good experiences with Booking.com. But I guess I don’t know if we are getting the best rates. I just know cancellations have been easy and the hotels have been good.
I’ve booked through those sites too and didn’t have problems. I have found that they often don’t offer the same discounts. I guess it’s the price of convenience. I just wish this site was more transparent.
I always book directly through the hotel website, not a third party. I’ve found the rates cheaper online than calling. Plus the time factor…
Yes! I sure hope this direct option continues to be available to us.
As long as people book through the hotel it will remain
Ah yes, those travel site euphemisms. I’m right on the heels of your activities, Janis. I made a reservation for us in December, and I too noticed how deceiving some of these third party sites are. They have the look-and-feel of the actual hotel but in fact aren’t. It took me several tries to make sure I got it right. Kudos to you for hanging in there and getting that cancellation — now keep a close eye on your credit card! – Marty
That is such a good point, Marty. I keep pretty good tabs on my credit card but I’ll double check for a while. I do feel fairly confident because the hotel did have our reservation so it was made.
Oh wow…I’m so glad you were able to cancel that other booking and book directly through the hotel! And I see that you’re going to Morro Bay, which is always one of our favorite places on the central coast. Watching the sea otters in the bay is a delight. Can’t wait to read all about your trip!
As Mary said, we also pretty much travel exclusively RVing, and we almost always have to book through reservation sites. But because I’m so persnickety, I often call a campground directly to ask them questions about sites. I want our site to be spacious, beautiful, far away from the restrooms and lights, and not next to the dumpster, LOL. Good luck with the rest of your planning!
I’m looking forward to our trip. I love the sea otters too… they always look like they are having so much fun.
Calling direct is the best way to get your questions answered… the sites don’t know the particulars.
You sure summed that up nicely, Janis!
As you might have guessed, us frugal people believe in getting the best deals via online “middle men” platforms. Often, we succeed in getting the cheapest rates but, also often, this comes at a price, similar to what you describe in this post.
I have spent hours on hold with companies in India and have gotten nothing resolved. Getting into my last experience (getting to Belgium) would take an hourlong write-up, but suffice it to say, if we didn’t lose money in the end we will have lost precious time and effort – unless everything goes according to plan. But when does that ever happen anymore post-Covid??
Enjoy Morro Bay!!! We have an eccentric friend who lives there and works at one of the barber shops. His name is Johnny Coconut. I have blogged about him before. 🙂
Just a quick note to make sure you saw my comment. 🙂
I did… just now. I miss so many emails while traveling. I wish I had known where your friend worked while I was there. Paul could have gotten a haircut 🙂
I hate spending time on the phone trying to resolve problems. Just get me to a real person who can help!
Hi, Janis – I am glad that you were able to finally cancel the reservation – despite the huge hassle.
Like another of your readers, I have had good success using Booking.com. Because I use them frequently, I get an extra discount with them. I do always double check though to see which is cheapest Booking or the actual site. I have had many experiences where Booking.com was cheaper than the original site and their cancellatiion policy was just as good. I swear that this is where my retirment time goes — researching all of these sites. I agree that it can be mindboggling! Great to see you posting again!
I like Booking.com as well. I’ve only had problems once and that was more a case of the hotel being difficult than it was Booking.
Thanks, Linda – I’ve been happy with Booking.com. Once ,when I arrived to a hotel as a walk-in, the hotel price was MUCH higher than I had seen on Booking.com. The receptionist couldn’t change the cost of the room in her system so suggested that I sit in the hotel lobby and book a room for their hotel on Booking. (Which is exactly what I did). 😀
So many options and so little time. A couple of people have said they get discounts and even free rooms when they book often through them. I guess I don’t stay in hotels enough to take advantage of that.
Hi, Janis – I completely agree with you — whatever works for each individual is the way to go. And sites that are not transparent are definitely not for me.
What a hassle for you, but I am just as old school by wanting to call the hotel directly. Like you said, research is one thing, but calling directly and talking to a live person at the hotel makes a world of difference and lessens headaches in the long run. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, and I’m glad it all worked out. Have a fabulous time!
I especially like to book directly when I’m going to stay in a smaller hotel. I find the front desk people are often very nice and will go out of their way to accommodate any requests.
I’ve never used a booking site, as I’ve heard too many complaints about them. I always go directly to the hotel’s site, or even call (although they always act surprised when I do that.) I’m glad you finally got it all sorted out!
I guess if I traveled using hotels a lot I might find the sites convenient but I like dealing direct (funny about them acting surprised). I think the smaller hotels sign up with the sites because they have to in order to remain competitive but each booking costs them a fee.
Yes, and I’ve heard you don’t always get as good of a room with the booking sites, either.
Wow, Janis, that is interesting. I have had really good experiences with Expedia, so I do most of my booking with them, but I like your great layout of advantages to booking with the hotel.
I guess whatever works for each individual is the way to go. I am still not sure whose site I was on to book the original reservation and that bugs me. The sites offer a convenient service but I want them to be transparent.
They do need to be easy to reach. There is nothing worse than reaching a machine and never being able to contact a human.
I agree with you about contacting the hotel directly. About the only time I don’t is with the chains I have rewards with. Also VRBOs. How horrible to have to hassle to cancel with a third party. Ick.
Ick is right. I’m glad to see that I’m not alone about preferring booking direct.
I understand your hesitancy when using online booking sites. To use them seems like a leap of faith, while talking directly with the hotel seems legit. Yours is a cautionary tale for me, so thanks.
Yes! There is a comfort in talking with a live human that the inter webs don’t offer.
I usually book direct with airlines and hotels on their websites. When COVID-19 hit, I got 100% refunds from the airlines for the flights I booked without having to call anyone.
I’m happy to learn that I’m not alone in preferring personal contact. And, you are right, it often makes adjustments and cancelations easier.
We just passed through the area last week. First time driving the beast down the coast (future post) and last time driving the beast down the coast…lol. I commend you for doing the phone research! I have little patience for phone calls in general. I especially commend you for navigating the near impossible web of details and calls to get your cancellation! For hotels, I always go direct (web site mostly) as well and fortunately have a nice frequent traveler acct to leverage which always keeps the booking process and costs streamlined.
Enjoy Morro Bay. Always have fond memories of that town and section of the coast.
Hi there! Somehow, I kept losing your comments and a couple ended up in my spam folder. Hopefully now things are straightened out (although, with WP, anything is possible). I’m not good on the phone either but the benefit of having a human contact makes it worth it. Morro Bay was gorgeous! We hadn’t been there in several years and it’s still as quant as ever. I’m looking forward to following your adventures!
Thank you Janis!! Glad you’ve broken me free of the spam folder.
I’m glad you were able to get out of that reservation, Janis. I have avoided booking sites from the moment they arrived on the scene.
I was so relieved that the cancelation worked out (although I won’t feel 100% okay until I see the refund on my cc statement).
I’m 100% with you. I don’t use “middlemen” sites for booking either hotel rooms or flights. Sometimes they can offer better rates, but if something goes wrong, you’ll have a much worse time getting it sorted out to your satisfaction.
They make it easy to book. Not so much to change or cancel.
So much to beware of these days Janis when what seems easier is the opposite. Here you were being proactive, not wanting to take a chance on finding accommodations and see what happens … you thought your biggest concern was ensuring you had adequate “plug-in ports” for the EV. Good luck on your trip.
Haha! So much of what we do is online these days. I try for the human touch whenever possible. Although all my plug-in info is online, so fingers crossed 🙂
Working in the hotel industry, always better to book direct. Because if you need to make any changes to your reservation, its so so much easier for the people on both sides of the phone. Third parties are horrible
Good to get an insider’s perspective, thank you! I had a bit of a discussion with the woman at the hotel when I called her direct, and she wasn’t crazy about the third-party sites either. They list their hotels on there in order to remain competitive but prefer to get their bookings direct.
That’s was very nice experience.. I believed if anything can be done online then why should I call for reservations but this blog mak it clear for me how it actually works and how to get discount. Very informative
I guess you just never know for sure, except if you call direct. I know many people book online without an issue (as I have also in the past). I just prefer talking to a live human being.
This got buried, Janis! I’m so glad to read you worked it out, but oh so many scams for booking accommodations! It’s actually scary. Thank you for sharing your story. We used a couple of third-party sites like Expedia and had good experiences, even when we needed to cancel or change. I’m like you, I prefer to book directly and actually have a conversation with real people at the actual place!
If I need to book online (it is sometimes easier/necessary), I’ll stick with the “big guys.” I don’t know what site I was on, but I didn’t like feeling tricked. I am looking forward to seeing my refund on my statement 🙂
Your perseverance is so impressive! I hope that your trip is going well, and this was the only bump in the planning of it.
All is well now. I hope to post about our (no bumps) trip soon.
YAY!!! That’s excellent news, I look forward to reading about your trip. 🙂 Glad for the sneak peek that it didn’t involve bumps.
Whenever we travel, Janis, my husband books all the lodging (he loves that part – ensuring that he has plenty of pillows, for one). Like you, he prefers calling the hotel directly when it’s an option. I’m glad you were able to get everything straightened out in the long run. Enjoy your travels!
Fortunately for this trip, I was able to bring my own pillow… heaven! So much more can be communicated directly.
Wow. I think you were lucky that the “booking” site didn’t abscond with your credit card information! Sheesh. I’ve noticed something recently with restaurants. Since the pandemic and labor shortages, many have disconnected their phones for reservations or ordering out. One is forced to use an app to make a reservation or to order food. If you’ve got a question, you’re up s– tcreek.
I understand the labor issues, but I sure hope it gets worked out soon. I don’t like not having a real human to talk to, ask questions of, verify with, etc. I once tried to order take out (for us to pick up ourselves) and somehow got Door Dash. Maybe it’s me but it seems these “conveniences” could be made much clearer.
I know what you mean. But I have the feeling that we are our grandparents. The younger generations don’t use the phone as a phone. They are app driven and I kind of get it. Till I need to speak with a real person and there’s no one there!
Thanks for the tips and it seems like some of these third parties are sneaky!!
Hope your trip is going awesome (and from your wordless Wednesday post I see it is a beautiful location)
I really don’t have an issue with these online booking services, I just would like them to be transparent. Thanks for the good wishes about our trip. We are now home and I hope to post about our EV journey soon. 🙂
Yes – stop the sneaky behaviors !!
And happy unwinding and decompressing
That way always works best for me too Janis. Glad you could get it sorted out.
I was happy to see that the charge didn’t appear on my credit card bill.
Great tip…I’ll be using this one.
I know others like those booking sites, but I like to reserve rooms direct.
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