So you're heading to Los Angeles, Miami, Cleveland, or insert city name here. If you have a rewards account with a particular hotel chain, you are probably apt to book with that same hotel brand every time you travel, but if you aren't a frequent traveler and don't have any loyalties, how can you go about securing the best deal on a hotel?
Right now we are in the midst of the major hotel brands pushing a "Book Direct" agenda. If you book direct with these chains, they guarantee you the best rates out there. And if you are looking at a full-service hotel that still charges you per day for Internet access (I know...it's crazy that hotels are still doing this isn't it?), they will lure you in with the promise of complimentary Wi-Fi if you book direct on their site or through their app and if you join their rewards program which is always free to join.
But then you have those OTA (Online Travel Agency) sites out there as well. Think Expedia, Hotels.com, Booking.com, etc. They tell you they will get you a better deal. But you really have to be careful. I'm traveling up to Northern California in a few weeks and I've been pricing hotels for quite a while now. I'm running into the issue of some sort of big local festival going on so hotel inventory overall is very limited. But as I'm looking at the hotel's own website and then checking out Travelocity, Expedia, etc., I am finding there really isn't any difference in pricing between those sites and the hotel's own site. Oftentimes the only time you WILL find a deal on these sites is if you are booking last minute and the hotel has a lot of available rooms, so they opt to give away these rooms for discounted rates rather than sit there with empty rooms.
But I can tell you that if you do end up booking with one of these OTAs, you need to watch out for a few things. These OTA sites are a little cagey in that they often do not disclose all of the costs you are going to be faced with. You might see that $69 per night hotel room price and just click and book right away. Then you arrive at the hotel only to find out that parking is extra per night -- and in some cities it can add up to $25, $40, or more per night. If you are going to a resort hotel, the daily resort fee is probably not added in either. And the hotel tax, local city taxes, etc. are all probably additional as well. So if you are on a very tight budget, you really need to do your due diligence and be sure that you know exactly how much this perceived "hotel deal" on an OTA site is going to cost you.
Another thing to keep in mind is that when you buy a hotel room from Expedia or Hotels.com, the hotel has not only sold a room at a lower rate than they would be selling it if you bought it direct from their website, but now they have to pay a commission to the OTA site as well for your sale. So they are going to give you the lowest rated room in the hotel. Do not expect to get an ocean view or pool view room if you have paid $69 through one of the online sites. And don't expect that if you have any issues with cancellations, etc. they are going to come to your rescue. If you have booked through one of those online sites, you are stuck dealing with them for refunds, cancellations, and any other issues you have. You are not the hotel's problem simply because you did not book direct with them.
Unless you are getting a really amazing deal from one of these Online Travel Agency sites and I have yet to see a site that would make me go "wow that's an amazing deal," I would recommend booking direct with the hotel. As a guest who has booked direct, you are more apt to get an upgrade -- or even get a good deal on an upgrade; you will know all related costs in advance -- and once, again, you should do your due diligence and either ask at time of booking if you are using an 800 number or read ALL of the fine print on the website -- and there shouldn't be any surprises.
BOTTOM LINE: When in doubt, book direct unless you are seeing a rate that is unbelievable and then check online to see what they are not including. If you've double and triple checked regarding any possible additional fees, then go ahead and book it.