How to get cheaper rates on rooms

Online travel booking websites may save you a lot of money, but there’s a way to save even more on accommodation and it involves ‘older’ technology.

Travellers using accommodation aggregators such as Booking.com, Hotels.com, Priceline.com and Expedia can get cheaper deals on rooms simply by making a phone call, says Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims.

“There’s a very good chance you’ll get a much better price than you are seeing online,” Mr Sims told Guardian Australia. “A very good chance.”

Prior to 2016, Australian hotels were not allowed to offer cheaper rates in person than what they advertised online. Then, an agreement between the ACCC and the Australian hotel industry allowed accommodation providers to give cheaper rates over the phone than what they provided online.

Aside from the ACCC recommendation, Australians are being asked to avoid online booking sites because they are harming the local economy and the Australian hotel industry.

Entrepreneur Dick Smith has also called for a booking-site boycott, saying that online aggregators’ high commissions are “extorting” Australian small businesses.

Mr Smith said that every motel owner he spoke to said: ‘I hate that I have to sign up but I have to’.

“Some of them will lose 50 per cent of their bookings. One hotel I spoke to gets 70 per cent of its bookings through these American sites.” According to Munro, offshore travel agencies are “wrecking balls for Australia’s accommodation industry”.

“The expense for a typical motel can be as high as the wages paid, which is around 30 to 40 per cent of expenses for a typical country motel, which is unsustainable and is forcing moteliers to cut their staff’s hours of work in regional areas.”

Two companies that own many online booking sites effectively control up to 80 per cent of all Australian hotel bookings, taking commissions as high as 25 per cent on every reservation made online.

While better deals can now be offered over the phone, in person, or to loyalty members, hotels cannot advertise those rates online, so travellers would be wise to call for a cheaper rate.

“Once you find a hotel you want, ring them up,” said Mr Sims.

“I can’t guarantee it will happen every time, but I would think in the majority of cases you would get a better deal.”

Accommodation Association of Australia chief Richard Munro agrees. “Consumers will get a 100 per cent better experience and a better deal by calling the property direct,” he said.

“It is the only way an accommodation operator can offer a lower rate under the unfair contract they are forced to sign by these online travel agencies.”

A Guardian investigation into hotel rates found that savings of up to 18 per cent could be made by picking up the phone and asking for a better deal.

Do you book hotels online? Were you aware that you could get cheaper deals by calling the hotel?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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