As Australians re-embrace travel, many of us will be eager to cut accommodation costs. There are ways to save. But it’s not always about hotel booking sites.
Two in five Australians plan to travel in the coming year. Expedia’s Traveler Value Index 2022 Outlook shows that the average spend per trip is projected to be around $2,845 — and lodging can take a big bite out of vacation budgets.
While hotel booking sites often promise the “best” rates, it doesn’t always mean the cheapest rates.
The booking site industry is dominated by two companies. Expedia’s brand stable includes Wotif, Trivago and Hotels.com. Booking Holdings owns Kayak, Agoda, HotelsCombined and Bookings.com.
At one point, their combined influence meant that hotels that signed up with these sites were unable to offer lower prices.
Competition watchdog – the ACCC, put an end to this in 2016, leaving hotels free to offer lower rates through phone bookings, walk-ins and customer loyalty programs.
It is not the first time the industry has attracted the attention of the regulator. In April 2022, federal court ordered Trivago to pay fines of $44.7 million for misleading consumers about the cheapest hotel room rates.
Are the savings right?
A quick shop around shows that booking sites don’t always deliver savings.
As a guideline, a one night stay at the Sheraton Grand in Sydney cost $509 through Booking.com, Expedia, lastminute.com.au and Wotif – the same price listed on the Sheraton’s own website.
Members of the Marriott Bonvoy rewards program, which is free, can get the same Sheraton room for $483 — a savings of $26, or about 5 percent off the regular rate.
We also tested booking sites for Canberra’s Hyatt Hotel. A night for two cost $370 through Lastminute.com.au, Wotif, Expedia – as well as the Canberra Hyatt website.
Booking.com has also priced the room at $370, but with a non-refundable prepaid option for $333 — a $37 savings or 10 percent off the standard rate.
Alternatively, members of the World of Hyatt Rewards Program (free entry) can pay $352 directly through the hotel, a discount of approximately 5 percent.
When traveling abroad, booking sites are useful for identifying hotels in your destination.
However, it is worth checking which loyalty program your favorite hotel is linked to and what the hotel has to offer with a direct booking.
For example, if you are traveling to Dubai, members of the Rotana Rewards program may be able to get a 20% discount on room rates at participating hotels.
Check out hotels rewards programs to find deals when you book direct. Photo: Getty
Find the best way to pay
The way you pay can also bring you savings.
Visa cardholders who enroll in Visa’s Offers + Perks program may be eligible for 10 percent cash back at select hotels through Booking.com or 8 percent at Hotels.com.
Or make a reservation through a cashback site. Cashrewards offers an 11 percent cashback payment on bookings made through Expedia or 5 percent at Booking.com.
Richard Munro, CEO of the industry association Accommodation Association of Australia, encourages consumers to contact hotels directly to make reservations, and with good reason.
Vacationers pay nothing to use booking sites. But hotels do, with commissions as high as 15 percent.
This makes it worthwhile for smaller hotels to offer discounted rates on direct bookings.
For example, the Vulcan Hotal in Sydney offers a 10% discount on reservations made via the hotel’s website.
Other ways to save on housing include checking out the benefits your car company offers. Members of NRMA, RACT, RACQ and RACV can get discounts of 15-25 percent on vacation accommodations at participating hotels.
New South Wales residents can apply for a $50 NSW voucher from the state government before October 9, 2022 to be used at participating hotels. You must book directly with the hotel to redeem the voucher.