Should You Book Hotels Through a Travel Website or Directly Through the Hotel?

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There’s been lots of hype by hotels telling us to skip “clicking around” and to book directly through their sites for the best price. But is that really the best deal for paid stays?

Better To Book Hotels Through An Online Travel Agency Or Directly Through The Hotel Website

Can Booking Direct With the Hotel Chain Save You Money?

Let’s look at whether it’s better to book hotel stays with a hotel chain directly, or use an online travel agency.

It’s Not Just About Price

If getting the cheapest rate is your only consideration, it makes sense to shop around and book through the method with the lowest price.

But keep in mind, hotel reservations made through online travel agencies will not offer the same benefits you’d get if you booked through the hotel directly. For example:

  • You typically will NOT earn hotel points or stay credits on 3rd-party bookings
  • Some chains (like Hilton, Marriott, and Starwood) require you book with them directly to get free Wi-Fi
  • You likely will NOT have your elite status recognized or receive elite perks like upgrades, late check-out, or amenities (though there are sometimes exceptions – it’s worth calling the hotel to add your loyalty program number to the booking just in case)
  • The cancellation policy may not be as flexible, or you may have to commit to a non-refundable booking
  • You often won’t receive the most desirable room (especially for deeply discounted 3rd-party bookings, like Priceline or Hotwire) – for example, near an elevator, lower floor, etc
  • You won’t earn bonus points for using the hotel’s co-branded card like you would if you booked directly
  • If you’ve registered for a hotel promotion, you won’t earn bonus points or stay credit

Keep in mind, you’ll usually earn bonus points at online travel agencies when you use cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Prestige, or Citi ThankYou Premier, because most online travel agencies code as a travel purchase.

Comparing Online Travel Agency Rates Against Hotel Prices

I looked some random examples to see if booking directly through the hotel would save money. The results might surprise you!

1. Hilton vs., Expedia, and Orbitz

Earlier this year, Hilton launched the “Stop Clicking Around” campaign, which encourages folks to book directly through them to receive exclusive member rates. And guaranteed they’d have the best prices over other websites.

A little while ago, I checked the rates for a standard king room at the Hilton Union Square San Francisco on the Hilton website,, Expedia, and Orbitz on October 1, 2016.


To get the best rates at Hilton, log-in to your Hilton account first.

Booked directly through Hilton, you’d pay ~$345 for the best flexible rate. You can cancel 2 days prior to arrival without penalty, and you’ll earn Hilton points for your stay.

Plus, if you’re a Hilton elite member, you’ll get perks depending on your status (like late-check out, room upgrades when available, or free breakfast). And all members get free Wi-Fi when they book direct.

Better To Book Hotels Through An Online Travel Agency Or Directly Through The Hotel Website

Booking Through the Hilton Website Turns Out to Be the Best Deal! has the same room for ~$383. That’s ~$38 more than Hilton’s price! However, the room also comes with free Wi-Fi and the same cancellation policy as Hilton.

Better To Book Hotels Through An Online Travel Agency Or Directly Through The Hotel Website

You’ll Pay ~$38 More If You Reserve Your Room Through


Expedia has essentially the same price as, ~$383 for the same room and cancellation policy. But Expedia does NOT offer free Internet. Instead, you’ll earn 766 Expedia+ points, which is worth ~$5.

Better To Book Hotels Through An Online Travel Agency Or Directly Through The Hotel Website

Expedia Also Charges ~$38 More Than Hilton, and You Won’t Get Free Internet


Orbitz had about the same ~$383 rate and same cancellation rules. Again, you won’t get free Wi-Fi, but you’ll earn ~$11 in Orbucks (Orbitz’ reward currency).

Better To Book Hotels Through An Online Travel Agency Or Directly Through The Hotel Website

You’ll Pay a Similar Price With Orbitz but Wi-Fi Isn’t Included Either!

So in this example, it clearly makes sense to book directly through Hilton! You’ll save ~$38, earn Hilton points and stay credits, and have your elite status recognized. Plus, if you’ve registered for a Hilton promotion, you’d earn bonus points.

To see if other locations and dates gave similar results, I ran the same experiment at the New York Hilton Midtown on November 1, 2016. Booking direct though Hilton as a loyalty program member saved at least ~$12 and is the only option that offers free Wi-Fi.

And I tried one more time on December 2, 2016, at the Hilton Garden Inn Chicago Downtown / Magnificent Mile and got nearly identical results.

Hilton consistently beat the rates of online travel agencies by ~$12 to ~$40 per night and was the only booking option with free Wi-Fi every time.

And Hilton points earned your stay were always more valuable than Orbucks and Expedia+ points.

2. Choice Hotels vs., Expedia, and Orbitz

Choice Hotels recently began offering discounted member rates, which are only available to members of their loyalty program through


I signed-in to my Choice Hotels account and searched for rooms at the Comfort Inn & Suites Love Field – Dallas Market Center on October 1, 2016. The advance purchase rate (no cancellation) was ~$99 and the member rate (able to cancel up to that day) for ~$121.

Free Wi-Fi and breakfast is offered to all guests, no matter where you book. You’ll also earn Choice points.

Better To Book Hotels Through An Online Travel Agency Or Directly Through The Hotel Website

Booking Directly Though Choice, the Prepaid Rate Is ~$99 and the Best Refundable Rate for Members Is ~$121 offers a non-refundable rate of ~$105 for the same room, or ~$6 more. And their refundable rate is ~$123, or ~$2 more.

Better To Book Hotels Through An Online Travel Agency Or Directly Through The Hotel Website

You’ll Pay Slightly More for Both Rate Types at


Expedia has the same non-refundable rate as Choice, but their refundable rate is ~$2 more.

Better To Book Hotels Through An Online Travel Agency Or Directly Through The Hotel Website

The Prepaid Rate on Expedia Is the Same as Booking Directly Through Choice, but the Refundable Rate Costs Slightly More


Orbitz matched Expedia’s rates exactly.

Better To Book Hotels Through An Online Travel Agency Or Directly Through The Hotel Website

Orbitz and Expedia Had Identical Rates

Unless you really prefer collecting Expedia or Orbitz points over Choice points, it’s better to book with Choice. Plus, Choice often runs promotions which allow you to earn bonus points after a certain number of stays.

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I checked the rates at Comfort Inn & Suites Pittsburg and Cambria Hotel & Suites Ft. Lauderdale and got very similar results.

The non-refundable rates were exactly the same on all websites, and Choice beat the refundable rates of online travel agencies by ~$3. Again, free W-Fi and breakfast is offered to all guests, no matter the booking method.

And like Hilton points, Choice points are likely more valuable to most than Orbucks or Expedia+ points.

Hyatt vs., Expedia, and Orbitz

This year, Hyatt also introduced special member rates to encourage folks to book directly through their site. You can save up to 10% off regular prices.


Signed-in to my Hyatt account, I found a member discount rate at the Grand Hyatt Seattle for ~$267 on October 1, 2016. Complimentary Wi-Fi is provided to ALL guests, and you can cancel 24 hours prior to arrival with no penalty. And you’d earn Hyatt points for the stay, plus credit towards promotions if you’ve registered.

Better To Book Hotels Through An Online Travel Agency Or Directly Through The Hotel Website

You’ll Pay ~$267 for a Night at the Grand Hyatt Seattle When You Book Direct‘s price is ~$30 more at ~$297! They have the same cancellation policy as Hyatt.

Better To Book Hotels Through An Online Travel Agency Or Directly Through The Hotel Website Charges a Whopping $30 More for the Same Night – and Same Cancellation Policy


Better To Book Hotels Through An Online Travel Agency Or Directly Through The Hotel Website

Expedia‘s rate is even higher at ~$299. The cancellation policy is also the same, and you’d earn Expedia points. Expedia’s Rate Is Even Pricier – ~$32 More Than Hyatt


Orbitz has the same price as Expedia (~$299) and the same cancellation policy. You’d earn ~$9 in Orbucks, which isn’t worth it!

Better To Book Hotels Through An Online Travel Agency Or Directly Through The Hotel Website

Orbitz Also Charges ~$32 More Than Hyatt

I did find one instance where an online travel agency beat a direct booking. On November 1, 2016, at the Hyatt Regency Miami, you can save ~$10 by using Booking’s non-refundable rate. Hyatt’s rate is ~$233 but is refundable.

I’d gladly pay $10 for a refundable rate that earns Hyatt points and offers elite perks (Diamond breakfast!) and possible upgrades.

Booking’s refundable rate is ~$247, which Hyatt beats by ~$14. Hyatt easily beat Expedia and Orbitz rates as well.

I tried one other date and overall, I found booking direct with Hyatt is cheaper on average by ~$33 for refundable rates, and either the same or slightly cheaper for non-refundable rates. It’s better to book direct with Hyatt.

Booking Direct Is Your Best Bet

Based on the evidence, it’s almost always better to book with the hotel chain directly:

  • In the 9 experiments I ran, I saved an average of $17
  • Wi-Fi was always included, but that was not always the case with online travel agencies
  • The cancellation policies were almost always identical
  • The hotel points you’d earn are generally more valuable than those of the online travel agencies
  • If you have a co-branded hotel credit card, you’ll earn even more points. For example, you’d earn 12 bonus Hilton points per $1 with the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express at Hilton hotels
  • The hotel chains also provided “Best Rate Guarantees,” though I’ve always found those difficult to collect.
  • You may eventually earn elite status if you stay at the same chain frequently
  • I’ve read reports that booking directly with hotels sometimes translates to better service

If you’re not loyal to a specific brand, it makes sense to start your search at a website like Expedia or Orbitz, then book direct with the hotel chain of your choosing. That way you can comparison shop and find the best deal for your travel dates.

Or consider narrowing down your search by checking paid rates on Hotel Hustle.

Bottom Line

Now that many hotel chains offer discounted rates to loyalty program members, it’s almost always a better deal to book with the hotel chain directly, instead of an online travel agency.

I experimented with different chains and hotels and found the hotel matched or beat the online travel agency price just about every time. But always shop around to be sure you’re getting the best deal, if price is your only concern.

When you book direct with the hotel, you’ll earn points, stay credits, and promotion bonuses, unlike when you book through 3rd party sites.

Plus, with online travel agency bookings, you generally won’t have your elite status perks recognized. So you might not get benefits like free breakfast, welcome amenities, and late check-out.

That said, sometimes online travel agencies have discount promotion codes.

Have you had a different experience? Please share in the comments!

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Why should I book through a Travel Agency instead of booking my own trip?

Peace of Mind: The Advantage of Booking through a Travel Agency

Why should I choose a tour package instead of booking my own trip?

Why should I choose a tour package instead of booking my own trip?

Sure, you can book your own flights, hotels, tours, and activities in a destination new to you, but before facing the list of possible issues with connections, availability, itineraries, visas, park permissions, and other details you may not know you need to deal with in advance, maybe what will really make your vacation all the more enjoyable is peace of mind. Let’s review the advantages of booking through a Travel Agency.

Walking tour through Quito’s Historic Center, Church of La Compañía de Jesús.

Clarity (in the form of a Standard Tour Package)

One way to think of a tour package is as an all-encompassing means for a travel agency to address the details of your visit to a new destination. Just like the name implies, everything you want to have taken care of for you is bundled together in a convenient fashion. A tour package, built around your preferred travel dates, offers an itinerary that ensures you have ample time to arrive at your destination and explore it at a comfortable pace.

Note: We strongly recommend that you plan your trip or book your tour before buying your plane tickets so you don’t have to travel long distances between islands on a speedboat or incur more expenses by having to board an interisland flight to align with your cruise schedule or the things you have planned for your trip.

Maybe you have an idea of what destinations you want to visit and are particularly interested in Ecuador, Colombia or Peru. A travel agent can present these options to you and integrate them into a package. They can work with trusted, local guides to set up a scenic, cultural, and/or culinary experience as part of a day tour, and arrange the transportation you’ll need to get to and from different activities.

Sightseeing and transfer van, Ecuador

Sightseeing and transfer van.

With a tour package, details – such as airport transfers, accommodations, sightseeing activities, and passes to different attractions, among other things – are coordinated with your feedback and approval in a time-saving fashion. This eliminates the need to stay up late and spend hours putting together your own vacation, saving you the stress of arriving in your host country and missing a connection or trying to convey a question or concern across a challenging language barrier. Better yet, a tour package can be a great way for you to stay on top of requirements such as visas, fees, and other not-so-obvious necessities.

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Organization: How a Tour Package Works

Tour packages are generally designed to accommodate varying lengths of time and a wide range of activities catering to a client’s interests. They often include transfers to and from the airport to the hotel, cruise ship, or other types of accommodation. Additional ground transportation, scenic tours, and other activities require further details, which the travel agent generally handles, providing you with the specifics in advance of each day.

When contacting a travel agency for the first time, the base price for a particular package is often advertised or sent to you as a quote. These packages are almost always customizable. If you want to spend an extra day or two in a particular destination or if you need to arrange for a guide or a driver to escort you to and from an activity not included within the package itinerary, an agent can coordinate the details and make sure you have trusted, licensed personnel available to assist you. In fact, as they are the ultimate guarantors of your vacation package, a good travel agent only works with insured, registered, and trustworthy providers.

Guided excursions around the Galapagos

Guided excursions through Galapagos.

A Travel Agency can also serve as a great resource for booking convenient, international and domestic flights to and from the various destinations along your route. The added value of this extra service is the attention you receive, especially with regard to checking in for your flight and making sure that your luggage is handled with priority care, (as we’ll review in the next section). Also, if there are any hiccups along your journey, you can rest assured that a team of people will be working to resolve them as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Inclusivity: Nearly Everything for One Fair Price

Tour packages, like those offered by a Travel Agency such as Metrojourneys, can cover every detail from the moment you arrive in your host country until the time you leave. Let’s take a look at the basics included in the tour packages offered on their site:

  • Transfers to and from the airport
  • Scenic, guided tours
  • Hotel and/or Cruise accommodations (often with breakfast included)

Casa Gangotena dining room, Quito, Ecuador

Casa Gangotena dining room, Quito – Ecuador

Some packages include additional items. Each package lists what is included. Some include all meals, accommodations, day excursions, equipment necessary for enjoying different activities, and ground transfers to and from the airport.

Additionally, the brand guarantee that comes with booking a package through a good travel agency includes responsible, trained, and reliable providers (as referred to above), as well as having a team member there to assist you with every transfer, check-in, check-out, and connection you have on your itinerary. Not to mention the fact that every guide on your journey is skilled, trained, and passionate about what they do.

Guided trek through Mashpi Reserve

A guided trek through the Mashpi Reserve.

If you need to make any changes or modifications to the itinerary, dealing with one person (a travel agent or destination expert) allows for direct communication between the guest and the agency, who acts on the guest’s behalf in coordinating services with each provider. Your message gets across much more efficiently than if you were to have to coordinate everything yourself. This can provide enormous peace of mind and can be a huge timesaver.

In the case of the Galapagos, for instance, due to cargo weight restrictions, it is not uncommon for an airline to bounce checked luggage from a particular flight. If you purchase your airfare from mainland Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands via a Travel Agency like Metrojourneys, they take the additional step to make sure that your luggage does not get bounced from your flight, or, if your flight gets canceled, they work diligently to minimize the inconvenience and get you to your destination as quickly and as safely as possible. Dealing with these issues on your own, in a foreign country, and in a foreign language can prove daunting.

Perks: Preferential Treatment

One of the biggest inherent risks in booking your own vacation itinerary is exposing yourself to a variable rate for different activities, lodging, and tours. It is not uncommon for some providers to not honor an agreed-upon price, whether it be for accommodations, activities, day tours, or meals. Sometimes, they might even forget to inform you about additional costs, hidden fees, or any other restriction or requirement. If you’re dealing with them on the ground, in real time, this can be extremely frustrating, not to mention challenging because of the language barrier. Think of booking a package through a Travel Agency as a way to filter out this sort of experience. The biggest advantage, or perk, to booking a package is the preferential treatment you receive at every turn; at the airport, at the hotel, on the cruise.

When you book a tour package, you’re generally paying a fixed rate. One benefit to this is that your reservation is guaranteed, and your rate won’t suddenly jump. You pay a little more, but you ensure that your experience will not feel like a cheap one. Another value you get from having an agency take on an even more active role in your tour experience is the guarantee that your vacation will be as smooth, safe, and stress-free as possible.

Santa Cruz II Galapagos Expedition Vessel

Metrojourneys, as an example, boasts Destination Experts with the firsthand familiarity of each product. It also strives to always enlist eco-friendly technology and practices as an integral part of their packages and this means you receive the highest quality experience with the lowest environmental impact. Further, in an age where global awareness around environmental conservation is increasing, this gives you something to feel good about. When you look at it this way, certainly, booking a tour package, like those offered through Metrojourneys, reflects a true quality experience at a very fair price.

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Is it better to book a cruise through a travel agent? We say yes

Fran Golden is an award-winning cruise journalist whose work regularly appears in Bloomberg, Travel + Leisure, Afar and other travel outlets. She is the author of several cruise and travel books, including “100 Things To Do In Alaska Before You Die.” Fran lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Although fond of lake Erie, her first love is the sea.

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Going online to book an airline ticket or hotel stay is a familiar and fairly easy transaction. When you book a cruise, however — particularly your first cruise — you may want to reconsider the impulse to handle the transaction yourself through a cruise line website or an online advertiser with cheap prices. This DIY approach may not be the best way to find your dream vacation at sea.

In reality, it’s not that simple to book a cruise. You will likely run into a lot of questions to which you have no ready answer.

That’s where specialized cruise travel agents come into play. Their expertise can help you avoid mistakes, whether you are a first-timer or a repeat cruiser checking out a brand you have not tried before.

For cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s cruise newsletter.

Why you should book through a cruise travel agent

You should consider booking a cruise through a travel agent because a knowledgeable agent can help you understand the nuances of a cruise purchase and help you make the best decisions for your vacation preferences.

When you book a cruise, you are making a vacation decision that goes way beyond a flight or hotel nights. Which ship you choose determines your dining and evening entertainment choices for the duration of your vacation. Which itinerary you choose impacts which destinations you’ll visit and what kind of shoreside activities will be available to you. It can be overwhelming to evaluate the options on your own if you’ve never cruised before.

A travel agent will help you make choices about dining and cabin options. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

In addition, cruise fares can be hard to understand and compare. You may, for instance, see a fare listed online without the port charges, taxes and fees, which you only see after you give your personal details.

Plus, the price of your cruise includes accommodations, meals, entertainment and activities – and in some cases drinks, tips and shore excursions, Wi-Fi and other extras. There’s a lot bundled into some fares and not as much with others. A travel agent can help you determine what your cruise fare gets you. The cheapest base cruise fare does not always provide the best value or best overall vacation deal.

You aren’t just booking general passage on a ship, either, as you will be asked to pick a specific cabin and when you prefer to dine. Making a mistake in these categories can ruin your cruise experience, as there are such thing as “bad” cabins and dining times (think noisy or claustrophobic cabins, dinner at 8 p.m. with cranky children, etc.).

With cruises, you typically don’t pay for your whole vacation way upfront but rather put down a deposit, with final payment due at a later date. A cruise travel agent can ensure you don’t miss any due dates.

Remember, you may be a DIY type when booking airlines and hotels, but booking a cruise is more complex. If you enjoy doing your own research, focus on what to do and see in the ports of call. Read about different ships, cruise lines and itineraries. However, when it comes to booking the cruise, we recommend you still contact a travel agent who specializes in cruises to help you learn a few tips and avoid any rookie mistakes.

Travel agents can get better deals on cruises

If you’re concerned that working with an agent will make your cruise more expensive, don’t be. Cruise travel agents receive the bulk of their income via commission from the cruise lines. Their service to you is usually free, though some may charge first-time clients a minimal fee. It’s worth it.

In addition to sharing their expertise, the agent may have negotiated group space at lower rates with the cruise line, which may save you money on the cruise fare. The agent may also have first access to sale prices because the cruise lines notify their agent partners and loyalty club members first before they announce a sale to the public.

Some cruise travel agents even throw in booking perks, such as a complimentary bottle of Champagne in an ice bucket, awaiting your arrival in your cabin.

How to find a travel agent for a cruise

Cruise lines prefer that you use a travel agent rather than going online and booking directly. They have small in-house reservation teams, and when you have a question while making a booking, good luck in getting an expert on the phone in a timely manner — particularly in a pandemic when the cruise line staff is busy fielding calls about cancellations and such.

Companies such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line provide online directories to help you find an experienced cruise travel agent near you.

Some cruise line websites can help you find experienced cruise travel agents. (Photo by Lorraine Boogich/Getty Images)

You may also find experienced and certified cruise travel agents through CLIA, the Cruise Lines International Association, which is the industry’s main marketing group. Asking friends who have cruised to recommend a travel agent is another good idea.

You may get more personalized care from smaller agencies than from the huge online agencies, though websites such as, and also have experienced cruise agents. These larger online travel agencies can be a good option for those who prefer to make decisions and ask questions via chat. Just make sure you get the name and phone number of the representative for any follow-up questions.

Questions to ask a cruise travel agent

In choosing a cruise travel agent, you will want to tap into the person’s specific expertise about the cruise line and ship on which you are considering sailing. Anyone can read a ship deck plan outlining ship spaces (which you can find online), but you are looking for people who really know their stuff.

Look for travel agencies that are cruise-only or a home-based agent who specializes in cruises. If you are using a full-service travel agency, ask for the cruise desk.

Here are some questions to ask a travel agent to determine their expertise:

  • How often do you cruise?
  • Have you cruised on the line I am considering?
  • Have you cruised on the ship that I am considering, or do you have clients who have cruised that ship and provided a review of their vacation?
  • Do you have firsthand knowledge about the cruise destination? The itinerary?

You will also want to ask the travel agent if they have a preferred relationship or negotiated agreement with any specific lines that could lead to special perks for you.

Be aware that not all agents work with all cruise lines; some may represent a few preferred suppliers or specialize in higher-end cruises. They get bigger commissions from their preferred lines.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but be aware if the agent seems to be putting you off the line you were originally considering, as this may be the reason. On the plus side, an agent who is a preferred supplier may have negotiated rates with the cruise line and be able to call in favors, such as that bottle of Champagne or asking for a cabin upgrade.

You may be able to get a cabin upgrade with an experienced travel agent. (Photo by Jeff R Clow/Getty Images)

You should also ask if the travel agency offers 24/7 assistance (usually an 800 number) in case you have last-minute questions or something goes wrong before or during your trip.

The cruise travel agent should have questions for you as well, to better understand your dream vacation desires. If you are calling a cruise agency for the first time, the agent should be interviewing you as much as you are interviewing him or her. The agent should be focused on helping you choose the cruise line, ship and cabin that is right for you. Making the correct choices is very important to your overall cruise experience.

Bottom line

Booking a cruise is a complex enterprise. A cruise travel agent will guide you through choosing your cabin and dining times, deposits and final payment, and options for shore excursions and specialty dining. If you need to cancel the trip, the agent will also help you through the refund process. You’ll have a lot less stress before and during your vacation if you book with an experienced agent.




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