Online Travel Agents (OTAs) became popular in the late 1990s when Microsoft’s Expedia software pioneered scanning prices online and creating packaged deals for their customers. Online Travel Agencies have evolved since, from booking flights and hotels to activities, boats, cars, tickets, experiences, and more. From now on, we will refer to Online Travel Agent as OTA for simplification purposes.
It is cheaper to book a hotel from an OTA than to book directly if you are flexible with your options, make price comparisons, pay attention to what is included in your booking, and stay within your budget.
Using OTA is cheaper for hotel booking, but it comes with “if”
As mentioned above, booking via OTA can be cheaper than booking directly with the hotel, but there are a bunch of “if” for it to work
Flexible with your options
Do you have to stay with a certain hotel or are you flexible with your selections as long as you get one that is up to your standard? If you’re a long-time customer of a specific hotel brand/chain with membership, points, and discounts, then booking directly might be cheaper.
However, if you’re willing to consider a few options across different OTAs, one could get a cheaper room in the same hotel. This might be because they’re running a site-wide discount program or other factors.
Make price comparisons
If you find 2-3 hotels you’re interested in, all you need to do is to open a few well-trusted OTAs and see which one can give you the best deal. Most of the time these deals will beat the hotel’s rate if you book directly.
We’ve done our research in this area and found the 6 best hotel booking sites for you to use for price comparison on your next adventure. Check them out.
Pay attention to what’s included in your booking
So you found one that seems to be the best deal among other rates in other OTAs and even the hotel’s website. What you should do now is stop and READ. Sometimes best deals come with strings attached such as ‘non-refundable’ policy, breakfast is not included, and others.
Also, be sure to pay attention to the ‘sponsored’ hotel that shows up in the search result. This means the hotel pays to be shown in the search result, which means it’s not necessarily the best answer for your search query.
Naturally, price is not the only reason to decide on a booking method. Read our comprehensive article on comparing direct booking vs OTA in 7 different categories.
What are the advantages of OTAs?
Online travel agencies have flexible cancelation policies, easy booking, and a price-oriented approach to booking. In addition, some OTAs offer reward programs.
OTAs have flexible cancelation policies that allow travelers to book faster, knowing they won’t be charged a fee for early cancelation.
Another advantage is that it facilitates making reservations without paying until a few days before the booking date. In addition, OTAs capture credit card information and allow easy booking.
The most significant advantage is the capability to compare prices online to stay within budget. Also, there is no opportunity for comparing prices over the internet when booking directly through a travel agent, hotel, flight, etc., since their prices are set.
Many OTAs offer reward programs encouraging you to use their search engine and become loyal customers.
People booking through OTAs must rely on reviews, customer service with long waiting periods and virtual agents, luck, and word of mouth. Another disadvantage is that you might not get point rewards from the hotel.
The problem with booking through OTAs is their customer service. The options are to go through a virtual agent before connecting to an actual customer service representative. If you choose to call a customer service representative, you might have to wait on the phone until a representative is available. Once you reach a customer service representative, you are transferred between departments. Customer service has become more effective, but it is still frustrating.
If there are no reviews for your booking, there is no guarantee of the outcome of your booking, and you rely on sheer luck to have a good time.
You might also get less-preferable rooms when booking via OTA (less than ideal room location, slightly smaller room, etc). But don’t worry, this issue can be remedied by following these simple steps to ask for a room change.
- Compare prices – Take your time comparing airlines and destinations to find the right price to fit your budget.
- Read the reviews – Make sure you pay attention to what previous customers have to say about a booking before making a decision.
- Get all-inclusive deals – These deals can save you a lot of money on your trip for a slightly higher price.
- Get insurance – Consider adding insurance to your flights or rentals in an emergency. OTAs have flexible cancelation rates, but once it gets closer to your flight, it becomes complicated.
- Read the fine print – Before confirming your booking read the policies carefully to know your rights and any particular specifications.
- Know your booking – Find out what is included, what is an add-on, and which upgrades are available to your booking to stay within your budget.
What are the differences between OTA, traditional travel agents, and booking directly?
Let’s explore three booking options: the traditional travel agent route, the Online Travel Agent route, or the direct booking route. But remember, “Early bird gets the worm” in this case, plan your trip early or around seasonal sales and get the best deals.
Online travel agencies
They are more for Do-It-Yourself consumers that like to oversee every aspect of their trip. They rely on consumer reviews, excellent organizational skills, patience, familiarity with the location, word of mouth, and sometimes sheer luck to book and put together a travel itinerary.
Traditional travel agencies
They are for travelers that want a hassle-free booking experience and like having a travel agent to contact in case of a trip-related complication or issue. Traditional travel agents take care of all the details like booking flights, baggage allowance, connection flights, airport and destination rides, hotels, and activities to give their clients the most enjoyable experience. In short, traditional travel agents can help you plan a trip without stress. Of course, there are still significant decisions to be made, but they are minor and mostly about personal preference.
Booking directly with a hotel or an airline is not the cheapest route. However, sometimes these businesses have seasonal sales that you can take advantage of if you plan ahead. In addition, booking directly gives you loyalty rewards, which you can later use towards a booking.
If you’re the kind of guest who call the hotel and asks a list of questions before initiating the booking, direct booking also allows you to negotiate during that initial call.
It is cheaper to book through the hotel’s website if you have a loyalty account with them, mostly using their brands when traveling, and get rewards for each booking.
It is cheaper to book through an OTA if you have the time to plan, have attentive attention to detail, the patience to read through reviews and detailed information, and have practical organizational skills.
Book through a traditional travel agent if you have extras to spare, want to save time, and sit back and relax. Travel agents will take care of all the details like connecting flights, accommodation, airport transfers, flights, rentals, activities, and destinations.