Dec 282014

I stay in hotels from time to time, but I’m hardly a frequent traveler. I haven’t had to professionally in a decade, and my personal travel only includes a stay or two a year.

So I don’t have much loyalty to this chain or that. I have a vague affection for Holiday Inn, mostly because of Great Sign nostalgia and having that awesome toy Holiday Inn when I was a child. Beyond that minor tug: meh. In the low-middle range in which I generally consume hotel rooms, there just isn’t much difference.

hotelroomGiven that I don’t much care where I stay, I’ve taken to using online travel sites to book. I used for my recent stay in Oxford. It landed me in the Hampton Inn & Suites at exit 188 on I-20. Okeydoke. Whatever. I stayed in the adjacent Holiday Inn Express last time, but like I said, I’m a hotel whore.

When I went to check in, there was a woman in front of me. She was headed to Atlanta but didn’t want to drive straight into the rain, so she stopped for the night. She had no reservation. Fine, we’re delighted to have you, Jessica said. We have plenty of rooms on each floor, and do you have a preference? Oh, we’ll put you on the fourth floor. You won’t have anyone above you then. Off she went.

My turn. I gave Jessica my name, she took my license and credit card, and everything proceeded apace in a courteous and professional manner. But she never asked me if I had a floor preference. I took my key and went to my second-floor room, which was two doors from the elevator and directly overlooked the lobby.


There was nothing objectively wrong with the experience. She told me to let her know if she could do anything for me. My room was clean and comfortable. I got what I paid for. Had there been no one immediately in front of me to provide inadvertent contrast, I’d have never questioned it.

But if you were ranking rooms on the property from first to worst, this would have unambiguously been in the bottom quartile. And there were a lot of vacancies. And I wasn’t offered a choice, like the customer immediately in front of me was.

So did I get a subtle second-class treatment because I used a travel site instead of booking directly with the chain? I’d never considered such before, but it is the most obvious difference between my experience and that of the customer ahead of me. Casual net research seems to confirm that such suspicions not only exist, but are widespread.

I paid $78 plus taxes and fees, while the going rate for my room on the Hampton site seems to be $89 plus taxes and fees. Could I have been offered my choice of room location had I spent eleven more dollars?

Any experiences in this vein, readers?

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 Posted by at 10:52 pm

  9 Responses to “Does booking a hotel room with a travel site lead to second-class treatment?”

  1. I’ve had good and bad with booking through travel sites. There are times when I know they are giving me their crap room (literally in the basement or right next to the elevator). During our recent trip to Mexico we only booked two rooms in advance (both trough travel sites).
    Room 1 in ChichenItza – it was a bit cheaper to book through the booking site than through the hotel’s website, so we did. We arrived and were treated amazingly, never once did we feel like we’d been slighted. In fact, they actually upgraded our room (this place is actually two hotels in one), the side we’d booked on didn’t have King beds so they upgraded/ moved us to the other side (larger rooms) so that we could get our requested King bed. they were awesome at every turn. This was a locally owned place that I’d go back to in a heartbeat and recommend to anyone going to Chichen Itza.
    Room 2 – at one of the Westin resorts in Cancun. This was our only stay at a “chain” hotel during the whole trip. We decided to go to Cancun a day earlier than planned so I went online to where we’d booked our 1 night in Cancun to see if we could add an additional night. No problem at all, night added and we drove to Cancun; however, when we arrived they had no knowledge of our reservation for that night. Sure, they had our reservation for the next night. Much talking in Spanish (to each other) and little talking to us and the girl finally asks me to email her my confirmation for that night. I did, another 10 minutes of Spanish back and forth, and she asks me to send it again to her personal email because evidently her Westin email didn’t work (or wasn’t right or whatever). 40 minutes after getting there they give us a room in the basement with two double beds (we can not sleep together on a double bed) on the opposite side of the hotel than what we’d booked (not ocean view). Needless to say I was pissed. What pissed me off more was when I contacted after we got home and they barely apologized. I don’t think they read my email because their reply was basically “if you incurred additional costs for your stay please forward us the receipt and we will reimburse you” or something like that. we didn’t incur additional costs we just got nothing close to what we’d booked.

    • Oh, I can’t stand it when a “customer service” team is nothing of the sort. They have canned responses they’re going to give you, and if your issue isn’t perfectly covered by one of them, then too bad for you!

  2. Is it possible that she asked for preference because the room was unassigned and yours have been assigned in advance? Or certain rooms are blocked off for the travel site? It would have been interesting to make the request and see what she said.

    • I was going to say this. Mainly that I’d guess the travel sites get certain rooms blocked off, just like GSA rated rooms. On the bottom end of the pay scale so your preferences and priorities are likely lower on the list as well. I don’t think this means you’ll overall be treated with less respect of quality at most hotels. I’m guessing it just means if a hotel is heavily booked, you’re less likely to get offered options aside from what you’ve already pre-booked.

      • Well, OK, but that’s pretty much what I surmised. Whether it’s institutional or the checker-inner’s call, you get an intentionally inferior experience if you use a travel site to book.

        I could see it as making good business sense in a heavily booked situation. I doubt this place was half full. And it didn’t rise to “offered options.” It was nothing that would be described on a bill or anything else. It was just the vagaries of what makes one room preferable to another—the vagaries she was offered input into and I wasn’t.

        Traveling as little as I do, I never considered the business model of these travel sites. This has been an interesting bit of insight.

  3. I got burned by Expedia booking a flight and will never use them again for anything. They changed our flights so that there was a 2-minute layover in DCA (yeah, right), and it took repeated emails and two and half hours on the phone to get it straightened out, and then they were going to bill me for changing my flight.

    If you have to call customer service, call at 7 AM. You still get someone for whom English is a second language, but the wait time isn’t as long.

    I wish I could remember if it was Expedia or Travelocity, but I had a hotel give my prepaid room to someone else. When I tried to check in, they said I had already checked in. The names weren’t even close. That was nerve-wracking, wondering if we were going to be charged for both rooms.

    Related: I used a Discover card coupon to order Mother’s Day flowers from 1-800-Flowers. It was $45 worth of flowers for $25, or something like that. They sent dead flowers. You try explaining that to your mother-in-law.

    • Wow. I’m not sure I’ve seen financial benefit sufficient to warrant the risk these sites seem to entail. Thanks for the additional data. Maybe I really will start booking directly with Holiday Inn.

      I used one of those nationwide florists for Lea’s Valentine’s Day a couple of times. What I didn’t realize was they were sending her roses to her in a shipping container for her to assemble. Really romantic, yes?

  4. The wife and I have done some extensive traveling, so I’d like to share what I’ve learned from our experiences. Hotels often have rooms that are normally designated for opaque travel sites such as Priceline, Hotwire, and most recently, Travelocity Top Secret hotel deals. The sites don’t mention it, but it’s true. The rooms will most likely be located near high traffic areas such as an ice machine, elevator, stairwell, or lobby. I’m okay with it as long as the discounts are deep enough to put up with these small annoyances. The hotel attendants shouldn’t treat you any different, but sometimes they’ll say something like, “I see that you’ve booked through _______ site”. I’ve learned to live with it. If you’d like to have an upgrade or something like a king bed, then ask. Sometimes it takes greasing a palm to get an ocean view room when I booked through Priceline bidding, but it’s way better than paying for upgrades.

    For those who have a sense of adventure and are not constrained, I suggest reviewing Learn Priceline bidding strategies and do some reconnaissance about the area you are considering visiting.

    Also, there is never any good reason to use a travel site to book airfare. Always go directly to the carrier and purchase from there. The best hands down airfare aggregator is google air matrix,

    • Awesome advice, Chris. Thanks for sharing. The last trip of any significant cost/duration we took was to Walt Disney World, and we used Small World Vacations for that. Can’t say enough good about that experience. It took a major headache and turned it into a pleasure.

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