Online Travel Agencies Booking Hotels, Yes or No?

Should you book your hotel accommodation with an Online Travel Agency or through a Travel Agent or direct? A question many ask when planning their travels. Here I’ll explain my experiences and what I think is the best way of going about booking accommodation. Save money, get a good deal and be loyal.

In my early days of travelling I booked everything through my travel agent (TA); flights, accommodation, cruises, insurance, etc. I was happy to give them the commission for all their hard work. I had faith in their experience and they saved me a lot of time searching and organising. This went on for a few years then I decided to start booking travel myself to see if I could save money. I knew there wasn’t a lot of commission in airfares. Airlines were continously cutting this down to the bare minimum or in some cases not paying one at all. So there wasn’t much leeway for savings. On the other hand accommodation, cruises, travel insurance, tours (packages), car rentals, etc., still had good rates of commission and the possibility to save.

Online Travel Agencies

Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) cover a broad spectrum of travel services, a one stop shop so to speak. You could organise all your travels through one just like your regular TA. What separates the OTA from your walk in travel shop; they are global, have strong buying power and influence prices, and best of all they can pass on some of the savings to the customer. Your local TA will not be able to compete on price unless they are part of a global company with the same buying power. Where the TA is better than the OTA is personalised service. If things should go wrong the TA will assist you quickly. OTAs may or may not do the same. They also have strict policies and that may include changes of plan and refunds.

My Experience

When it came to booking accommodation I embraced the OTAs and specifically the hotel booking engines; Agoda, Booking.Com, Hotels.Com, HRS Hotels, Venere, ZenHotels, etc. I went looking for the cheapest rates, comparing hotels, rooms and booking. This went on for several years until again I decided to change tack. I’ll explain why, but firstly I’ll start at the beginning and why I chose to book with the OTAs in the first place.

I didn’t know much about OTAs or even of their existence. The only booking platforms I knew about were the GDS’s (Global Distribution Systems) used by travel agents, like; Sabre, Galileo and Amadeus, but those were not accessible to people outside of the travel industry. The only accommodation I thought I was left with were those found in travel brochures (mostly packaged tours) and those that I had seen in hotel directories used by TAs. Those in packaged tours always seemed expensive. So I had to look elsewhere.

With the advent of the internet and the web more and more travel information became available online and finding hotels got easier. Inevitably this is how I found out about OTAs and their smartphone apps, but what lured me was the marketing campaigns. They made booking look so easy. As I was still inexperienced in booking accommodation and was basically lazy to search individual hotels I took the OTA route. An easy way to search and book accommodation at the cheapest price. Well, that’s what I thought at that time anyway.


Online aggregator sites (hotel metasearch engines) were also part of this process, not right at the beginning but after having learnt their usefulness in the searching and booking process. The good thing about the aggregator websites, is that they showed all the OTA’s hotels in one place and compared their room rates. This would make it ultra easy to pick the best price without having to search for hours on end at each OTA site separately. Checking sites like, Hotelscombined, Trivago, first then moving onto whichever OTA had the cheapest rate for that hotel and particular type of room.

I knew the OTAs would take a commission like your local travel agent but didn’t know they tied the hotels to very strict agreements. Single TAs don’t do that they’ll charge a specific rate set by the hotel or chain. Tour companies have their agreements with hotels too. With the large hotel chains the commissions paid wouldn’t be a huge problem (even though they do complain about it) but for the smaller accommodation providers it meant a nice chunk of the booking fee and their profit ending up with the OTA. My next move was to change the way I booked accommodation and do a service to these smaller operators knowing also that if they saved paying the commission a small portion of that could be directed towards a discount for me (the customer).

Book Direct

Check the aggregators for the cheapest price for the room type you require and quote this to the hotel. OTAs take anything between 15% and 30% commission. Knowing this you can negotiate a 5% to 15% saving if the provider is not tied to a very strict agreement. If no monetary saving is possible then ask the hotel to throw in extras not covered by the OTA’s booking, things like: breakfast (if not included in the price), a room upgrade, WiFi, laundry, fruit basket, use of the gym/pool, complimentary drinks, food vouchers, early/late check-out, pick-up drop-off to/from airport and other amenities, etc. When you do enquire make sure it’s by email so everything is down in writing so there is no confusion later on at check-in. This tactic works best in places where there are several hotels competing for clientele. If it’s a secluded resort a different approach may be required. Perhaps booking as a large group and obtain a discount or if you are an influencer with a large following get some kind of preferential treatment.

Sometimes booking direct will not get what you want. An example is a hotel where I stay regularly where I cannot get a better price than the one quoted by the OTA even after contacting the front desk and emailing the sales office. Unfortunately I cannot name the hotel or the hotel booking engine involved. However, after being able to speak to the right people in person, I have been promised a discount for future stays. To get this I’ll have to contact them direct and continue to stay there in future. So if you know the right hotel staff you can circumvent the OTAs and their agreements. This won’t be the norm for the grand majority of people as these agreements can cause the hotels a lot of grief if broken.


As just mentioned, a sure way to save is to be a regular at the same hotel. If you frequent the same destination it would be a good idea to stay at one hotel, but make sure to pick a hotel that you will like and not grow tired of. Then enquire whether they give a discount. Here the hotel may also ask you if you are a corporate entity or a businessperson. Corporates have a different rate and not always matched by the OTAs. They may also ask you which other hotels you’ve stayed at hoping you will make the switch. As all hotels want your custom and regular custom for that matter, you can strike up a good deal for your first stay and subsequent stays. The savings are monetary and you will also get more perks not included in any OTA booking. Ask, you have nothing to lose. You can always move onto another hotel if the negotiation fails.

Hotel chains like airlines have their own loyalty schemes. Choose the right category of room required and only book through the hotel as OTAs will not pass on the chain’s points and will only give you their own that will only be good to save money on subsequent bookings with them. So you won’t be earning loyalty points and elite night credits when booking through an OTA and your elite status with the hotel chain, in all probability, will not be honoured by the hotel.

Final Word

OTAs still have their place in travel and in the booking of accommodation. In most cases anyone using them should be happy with the ease and simplicity of the process. Prices too are competitive. I’ll still be using the aggregators (the hotel metasearch engines) to check for the cheapest price and visit the OTA’s site to check the rooms but I’ll be contacting the hotel direct and negotiate, besides, I (you) don’t want to miss out on any perks the hotel may offer.


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