Plan a trip? Hotel Booking Sites Don’t Always Save You Money

As Australians start to travel again, many of us will want to reduce accommodation costs. There are ways to save. But they don’t always involve hotel booking sites.

Two in five Australians plan to travel in the coming year. The 2022 outlook for Expedia’s Traveler Value Index indicates that average spending per trip is expected to be around $2,845 – and accommodations can weigh heavily on vacation budgets.

While hotel booking sites often promise the “best” rates, that doesn’t always mean the cheapest rates.

The booking site industry is dominated by two companies. Expedia’s stable of brands includes Wotif, Trivago and Hotels.com. Booking Holdings owns Kayak, Agoda, HotelsCombined and Bookings.com.

At one point, their combined influence prevented hotels listing on these sites from offering cheaper prices.

Competition watchdog – the ACCC, put an end to this in 2016, leaving hotels free to offer lower rates through telephone reservations, appointments and customer loyalty programs.

This is not the first time the industry has come to the regulator’s attention.
In April 2022, the Federal Court ordered Trivago to pay fines of $44.7 million for misleading consumers about the cheapest hotel room rates.

Do the savings stack?

A quick search shows that booking sites don’t always save money.

As a rough guide, a one-night stay at the Sheraton Grand in Sydney cost $509 via Booking.com, Expedia, lastminute.com.au and Wotif – the same price listed on the Sheraton’s website.

However, members of the Marriott Bonvoy rewards program, which is free to join, could get the same Sheraton room for $483, a savings of $26, or about 5% off the listed rate.

We also tested the booking sites for the Hyatt hotel in Canberra.
A night for two was priced at $370 through Lastminute.com.au, Wotif, Expedia – as well as the Canberra Hyatt website.

Booking.com has also priced the room at $370, but with a non-refundable prepaid option for $333 – a savings of $37 or 10% off the standard rate.

Alternatively, members of the World of Hyatt rewards program (free membership) could pay $352 when booking directly with the hotel, a discount of approximately 5%.

If you are traveling abroad, booking sites are handy for identifying hotels in your destination.

However, it is worth checking which loyalty program your preferred hotel is linked to and seeing what the hotel offers with a direct booking.

If you’re traveling to, say, Dubai, Rotana Rewards members may be able to pocket a 20% discount on room rates at participating hotels.

Check hotel rewards programs to find deals when booking direct. Photo: Getty

Find the best way to pay

How you pay can also save you money.

Visa cardholders who enroll in Visa’s Offers + Benefits program may be eligible for 10% Cash Back on select hotels through Booking.com or 8% Cash Back with Hotels.com.

Or make a reservation through a cashback site. Cashrewards offers 11% cash payout on bookings made through Expedia or 5% with Booking.com.

Richard Munro, CEO of industry body Accommodation Association of Australia, encourages consumers to contact hotels directly to make a reservation, and with good reason.

Vacationers pay nothing to use booking sites. But hotels do, with commissions of up to 15%.

It is therefore interesting for small hotels to offer reduced rates on direct bookings.

The Vulcan Hotel in Sydney, for example, offers a 10% discount for bookings made through the hotel’s website.

Other ways to save on home accommodations include checking out the benefits offered by your car organization. Members of NRMA, RACT, RACQ and RACV are eligible for 15-25% discounts on vacation accommodation at participating hotels.

New South Wales residents can apply for a $50 Stay NSW voucher from the state government to be used at participating hotels by October 9, 2022. You will need to book directly with the hotel to redeem the voucher.

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