7 Potential Risks of Indirect Booking
When you’re booking a flight for your next business meeting, you have two options: The first is to use a third-party website to book your flight and hotel within a matter of minutes. The second is to book your accommodations and your travel separately, which may take a little more time and research.
If booking through a third-party website sounds like the superior option, beware: There are several hidden downsides to booking accommodations through third-party websites. Read on to see if you change your mind.
Loss of Money
Travelers aren’t always likely to find the best deal on third-party websites. Some airlines choose not to work with them altogether, meaning that the prices displayed may not be the lowest. Directly booking with hotels can lower the overall price of a stay. Promotions such as free nights or amenities may only be available on the hotel websites themselves, meaning that the third-party prices aren’t actually a steal after all.
Those “lower” prices may look good at first, but there’s a chance that the costs are actually higher than advertised. Baggage fees, taxes, and other prices may not be accounted for, or even made obvious. This was the case with Orbitz, Travelocity, and TripAdvisor in 2012. All three companies were fined by the Department of Transportation for advertising airfare lower than the actual prices. While some company spokespeople argued against the fines, the DOT has since enforced stricter regulations to give consumers a better idea of their travel costs.
No Preferential Treatment…
Travelers who book through third-party websites are more likely to receive rooms in less than ideal locations with the views to match, i.e. next to the loading dock, the parking lot, or the service elevator. Better rooms with better views are typically given to customers who book directly through the hotel.
The staff considers such customers loyal, repeat business. Travelers who book through third-party websites, however, are considered one-off sources of business who are just looking to save a buck. Given this difference, the hotel gives preference to the customers who are more likely to return.
…Except Under Certain Conditions
Third-party websites offer some perks, like Hotels.com, which offers a free night when you book for 10 in a row. However, the perks third-party sites offer may not seem that great when you consider that certain amenities aren’t available for rooms that are booked indirectly. For example, a hotel may offer free Wi-Fi only to people booked directly, and some hotels may not extend loyalty points to people who arrange travel through other companies.
Lower Prices Not Honored
Some third-party websites tout price-match guarantees but have policies in place that make it difficult for customers to receive the difference. Some may only offer money up to a certain price, while others may only honor prices found within 24 hours of booking. Others may not even guarantee a full refund. Some may issue the refund in the form of credit that can only be used with the website, meaning you won’t truly be getting your money back.
Third-party websites don’t always offer refunds, and they may enforce cancellation fees if you want to cancel your reservation. If your travel plans change unexpectedly, you’ll likely be left with an empty wallet. Booking directly, however, gives you way more flexibility. You’re less likely to have to cough up a cancellation fee or suffer a non-refundable payment. Paying a small fee to keep your travel dates flexible may be worth it in the long run.
Lack of Communication
Booking through a third-party website is risky because it’s not guaranteed that you’ll be notified of any changes to your flight or hotel reservations. While airlines will notify you with updated flight information, the same isn’t always true for third-party travel sites. Likewise, direct hotel bookings put you at an advantage, since the hotels can offer alternatives should something prevent you from checking into the room you booked.
When you consider all the potential risks of using third-party websites for your travel needs, they look much less appealing. The difference between direct and indirect booking is much like the difference between car service and cab service. Though one seems cheaper and easier, in the long run, it can actually end up costing you valuable time and money.
*Editor's Note: This post was originally published in 2013, however it has since been updated to reflect the most recent information