Oh, how the hotels want you to book direct with them, on their websites, via their smartphone apps, or by phone!
The major hotels’ now-ubiquitous best-rate guarantees were proffered to assure travel consumers that there was nothing to be gained by booking elsewhere. And the withholding of loyalty-program points for stays booked through third-party sites was designed to give customers a positive reason to book direct.
Notwithstanding such assurances and incentives, the online travel agencies still account for a significant portion of the hotels’ revenue and profits. The next step: discounts exclusively for loyalty-program members who book direct.
Hilton and Marriott recently began offering their program members direct-booking discounts ranging from 2 to 10 percent, depending on the day of the week and the number of days in advance the stay is booked. And this week, Hyatt followed suit, with its own version of a members-only discount.
According to Hyatt:
The Hyatt Gold Passport member discount, available beginning today at Hyatt hotels in the U.S., Canada and Australia, strengthens the value for travelers who book directly with Hyatt and builds guest engagement. Additional direct-booking benefits include Hyatt Gold Passport points, Online Check-In and Express Checkout, mobile reservation management, and around-the-clock customer care, including through social channels.
Of course, such tactics are a thumb in the eye of the online travel agencies like Expedia and Booking.com, that stand to lose bookings and commissions if travel consumers take their business direct to the hotels.
That puts the hotels in the awkward position of having to maintain amicable relations with the OTAs, which account for roughly half of all online hotel bookings, even as they strive mightily to undermine them. In theory, that establishes a competitive nexus, between the hotels and third-party distributors, which could benefit consumers as the contending parties vie for their business.
At least as far as the discounts go, however, there’s less there than meets the eye.
Hyatt promises discounts of “up to 10 percent.” But as with the member-only rates offered by Hilton and Marriott, the discount amounts are left to the discretion of the individual hotels and are sure to vary widely. And in a random sampling of test bookings, the AAA rate was sometimes lower than the Member Discount rate, with fewer restrictions.
So if these “exclusive” rates aren’t reliably the lowest-available rates, what’s the point?
That’s a question the hotels would prefer you didn’t ask.
Reader Reality Check
How do you book your hotel stays: direct or through an OTA?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.