Booking On Line vs. On Phone

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.

We are looking forward to visiting the Rock again.

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.