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Beware the Pitfalls of Booking Hotels Online

Any place can look good, and appear cost-effective, on a website

By Rick Steves and Rick Steves' Europe

In making my research rounds visiting the hotels I recommend in my guidebooks, I heard a recurring frustration from hoteliers. Slowly a bigger portion of their business is coming from websites that book rooms for travelers.

Expedia is a powerhouse in this field. Hotels report that Expedia takes a 30 percent commission from the hotels and charges a 10 percent booking fee of the traveler. So for a $100 room, the traveler pays $110 and the hotel gets $70. Obviously, hotels (dealing with the very high costs of business, employing people and local taxes) need to jack up their rates to make up for the 30 percent loss.

One hotelier at my favorite hotel in Amsterdam said that when he travels, he (as an insider) employs a simple trick. He visits Expedia and finds a hotel he likes. Knowing that hotel will net 70 percent of the room rate listed, he then contacts that hotel directly and offers 75 percent of the rack rate listed on the Web. He gets that $100 room for $75 rather than the $110 less-savvy Expedia customers would pay and the hotel, which would be satisfied with $70 actually gets $75. Everybody (except Expedia) wins.

Reading my piles of feedback, I get many reports of bait and switch practices from hotels advertising online.

Here's an example from Julie Marcotte:


"Rick, Please consider the following information, and pass it on to warn your readers. Each time I travel, I use a Rick Steves guidebook to plan. On this particular trip to Italy, we stayed in hotels you recommended in many stops and they were just great. But, for some reason, I chose a hotel in Rome on my own, by searching the Web. Big mistake! The Christina Hotel has a wonderful website, and gives you detailed information and photos about what you can expect your accommodations to be like. I booked, we showed up and they walked us six blocks away to a place for the same price but in a terrible location with creepy character. They seemed to think all they promised us was a room at a particular price. Tell anyone that when you book on the Web, you're at their mercy."

Remember that the Web can be a great source of supplemental information. But hotels tied in with online booking agencies offer "rack rates" and lose a cut to the agency. You're more likely to get the net rate when you book direct. Also, any place can look good online. Browse the Internet. But consider anything you see online an advertisement, not a review. These days non-nondescript hotels spend big bucks to look good in cyberspace. Guidebook writers personally visit hotels and give a frank appraisal of their value to travelers.

Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at [email protected].

Rick Steves Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at [email protected] and follow his blog on Facebook.  Read More
Rick Steves' Europe
By Rick Steves' Europe
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