Booking websites have been warned to do away with availability claims that mislead consumers. Booking websites have been warned to do away with availability claims that mislead consumers.
Life Planning a trip? Hotel booking sites don’t always save you money

Planning a trip? Hotel booking sites don’t always save you money

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As Australians re-embrace travel, many of us will be keen to trim accommodation costs. There are ways to save. But they don’t always involve hotel booking sites.

Two out of five Australians plan to travel in the year ahead. Expedia’s Traveler Value Index 2022 Outlook shows the average spend per trip is expected to be about $2845 – and accommodation can take a big bite out of holiday budgets.

While hotel booking sites often promise the “best” rates, this does not 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 stage, their combined clout meant hotels signing up to these sites were prevented from offering cheaper prices.

Competition watchdog – the ACCC, put a stop to this in 2016, leaving hotels free to offer lower rates through phone bookings, walk-ins, and customer loyalty schemes.

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

Do the savings stack up?

A quick shop around shows booking sites don’t always stack up for savings.

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

However, members of the Marriott Bonvoy rewards program, which is free to join, could secure the same Sheraton room for $483 – a saving of $26, or about 5 per cent off the rack rate.

We also put booking sites to the test for Canberra’s Hyatt Hotel.
One night for two was priced at $370 through Lastminute.com.au, Wotif, Expedia – as well as the Canberra Hyatt website.

Booking.com also priced the room at $370, though with a non-refundable prepaid option for $333 – a saving of $37 or 10 per cent off the standard rate.

Alternatively, members of the World of Hyatt rewards program (free to join), could pay $352 booking direct through the hotel, a discount of about 5 per cent.

If you’re travelling overseas, booking sites are handy to identify hotels in your destination.

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

If you’re travelling to, say, Dubai, members of the Rotana Rewards program may be able to pocket a 20 per cent discount on room rates at participating hotels.

hotel extras
Check hotels’ rewards programs to find deals when booking directly. Photo: Getty

Find the best way to pay

The way you pay can also dish up savings.

Visa cardholders who sign up to Visa’s Offers + Perks program may be eligible for a 10 per cent cashback on selected hotels through Booking.com or 8 per cent with Hotels.com.

Or, make a reservation through a cashback site. Cashrewards is offering a cashback payment of 11 per cent on bookings made through Expedia or 5 per cent with Booking.com.

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

Holidaymakers don’t pay anything to use booking sites. But hotels do, with commissions that can be upwards of 15 per cent.

This makes it worthwhile for smaller hotels to offer discounted rates on direct bookings.

The Vulcan Hotal in Sydney, for instance, offers a 10 per cent discount for reservations made via the hotel’s website.

Other ways to save on domestic accommodation include checking the perks offered by your motoring organisation. Members of NRMA, RACT, RACQ and RACV may be able to score discounts of 15-25 per cent on holiday accommodation with participating hotels.

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