The Internet has made it easy for online hotel reservation sites to tout big discounts and low-price guarantees, but consumers should be aware that these great offers may not always end up as good as they first sound.
According to Tina Winston, co-founder and vice president of HotelKingdom.com, a discount hotel reservation Web site, many customers reserve rooms without ever knowing what the policies and stipulations of the contract are, and end up spending more money than they originally intended.
Winston says that online customers should take special care to inquire about policies regarding changes or cancellations, as guidelines can differ significantly from site to site. While some sites may charge up to $50 or more for changes or cancellations regardless of advance notice, other sites allow the same for a fee as low as $10.90 if the reservation is changed or cancelled at least 72 hours prior to arrival. Some smaller sites may not even mention cancellation fees and restrictions for special rates at all, forcing the customer to research the individual properties in order to avoid unwelcome surprises.
Winston also cautions online patrons to be aware of the charges that will be billed to their credit cards. Many reservation services will require full pre-payment. This means that the total room rent plus tax will be charged to a credit immediately at the time of booking. In contrast, some sites only charge a down payment of 10 to 30 percent of the room rate, which will then be deducted from the bill when guests arrive at the hotel. This payment structure saves money in two ways: It allows travelers to pay the largest part of the room bill later directly to the hotel during their stay. In addition, it saves a good chunk of hotel taxes, since such taxes are only due on the remainder payable to the hotel, while there is no tax on the down payment.
According to Winston, travelers should book hotel accommodations as early as possible. Last minute bookings will usually cost more and are rarely worth the gamble. “Many hotel chains offer some really great advanced purchase discounts. If you plan far enough ahead, you can save more money.” Winston said. “Hotels engage in Yield Management, which means that as hotel bookings go up, so do the rates. The earlier you book, the lower the hotel`s occupancy will be for that date, which translates into a lower room rent.”
“Whenever you can, book with a reservation service, which guarantees that if you find a lower rate anywhere else, you will be refunded the difference or you will be allowed to cancel the reservation with no penalty,” Winston says. Several popular travel sites offer such “Lowest Rate Guarantees.” For example, HotelKingdom.com`s `Rate Champion Program` not only matches lower rates, but also gives patrons cash rewards for locating them. “The more time the traveler allows reviewing the promotions, the better chance they have of finding the best deals,” Winston said.
“Always check up on your reservation with the hotel directly after having made your reservation through an online provider,” Winston said. “Many booking mistakes have been avoided by such inquiries, and you can rest assured that your reservation is awaiting you when you arrive.”