Hidden charges, overseas fees and pressure tactics could all make your hotel stay more expensive.
I’ve been using sites such as Booking.com and Expedia for years to find hotel rooms, and I’ve made some decent savings as a result.
But there are the odd little things on these and similar sites which have caught me out. And I’m not alone. The government’s Competitions & Markets Authority (CMA) has started an investigation into potentially misleading prices and results on sites like these.
So here are a few things I’ve noticed some hotel booking sites do that could end up costing you more money.
Plus, at the bottom of the article, I’ve shared whether I think you’re better off going direct to the hotels instead.
Are hotel booking sites misleading you? What you need to watch out for
Hiding extra charges
Often the price you see displayed isn’t the total cost.
In the UK our tax (for hotels it’s VAT) is included, but it’s often added as extra overseas. I’ve just been to the USA and each State there will have a hotel tax, while many cities will have a city tax on top.
What’s frustrating is some sites will include this in the total price, while others will hide it elsewhere on the page. Confusingly, some sites do both depending on where you’ve clicked from.
I had this with Booking.com recently. Direct to the site prices were without tax, yet via comparison site Kayak (where I’d selected “all in” prices), the fees were included.
You might also find you have to pay “resort fees”, while Wi-fi, breakfast, parking are all often extra too.
All this information could be much, much clearer.
Charging you in the local currency
Longtime readers will know I’m well prepared to avoid currency conversion fees. But even with my selection of fee-free cards I’ve still managed to get caught out a couple of times.
There are a number of ways this can happen:
- Though many hotels with free cancellation won’t charge you at the time of booking, some do – and it’s not always clear what currency you’ll be paying in. Booking.com for example makes the pound price most prominent. Yet when I booked for Las Vegas recently, on the final page, in smaller letters further down that it’s easy to miss, it says you’ll pay in the properties currency. It could be, and should be so much clearer.
- One booking I made with Expedia was listed as pounds, until I selected to pay with Amex. Then a small extra line appeared on the screen offering me the choice to pay in dollars or pounds. It wasn’t obvious that the extra option appeared, and the dollars option was pre-selected. It’s very easy to miss things like this and just click “Buy Now”. Again, it should be clearer – and more consistent!
- The sites might ask for a card to hold the room, though at the same time making a big thing of “you won’t be charged for making this booking”. However if you don’t provide a different card when you check-out, it’s the first the card that will be charged – and that might come with heavy currency conversion fees. And even if you offer a different card at check-in, make sure that’s the one used. I found out too late that a hotel used the one from Booking.com rather than the one I gave them, costing me an extra £12.
- Also, remember that any price for an overseas hotel quoted in pounds can go up and down with the exchange rates if you haven’t prepaid.
Sadly these variations seems down to the hotel you choose, rather than the booking site – meaning it’s going to be different every time you book, even if you use the same website for all your bookings. So you need to vigilant here.
Often when I search for hotels, it’s easy to be tempted by the biggest discount – and potentially pay more than I intended to get a “nicer” room. That sometimes works out and you get a real bargain.
But hotels notoriously have very fluid pricing. Weekends and peak seasons will generally cost a lot more than less popular times. So the 60% discount you’re seeing for a Tuesday might be the standard midweek price. And if you’re influenced by discount rather than price, you could get easily spend more than you need to.
Not putting the best deals at the top
The hotels you see at the top of a search result are likely there because the hotel has paid to be or offers a higher commission! So always change the order of the results to see all the options.
I tend to filter by review scores (usually 7 out of 10 and above), then order by price from low to high.
Pressuring you to book
These sites all use similar tricks: “only two rooms left!”, “This hotel has been booked 17 times today”, “77 people are looking at your location right now”.
It’s all there to push you to book now and not search elsewhere. This is one of the things the CMA is looking into to find out how accurate this data is.
Personally, since I tend to book rooms I can cancel for free I don’t mind these statements, but don’t feel pressured to book a hotel you’re not sure about it.
Should you book direct with hotels?
I was told by one hotel owner on my recent trip that the commission they paid Booking.com was 15%. So it’s well worth using that information to negotiate. You should be able to get the same rate, or perhaps get an upgrade or have things like breakfast or internet thrown in.
I’ve also noticed that often these sites only have an allocation of rooms. So even if a place is listed as sold out on the booking sites, you might still be able to get a room direct – handy if the cheaper hotels appear to be gone.
But if you do this you will lose out on cashback. On my recent trip I was able to get as much as 12% back from Expedia via Quidco, and 3% to 4% for the rooms I booked on Booking.com.
I also successfully managed to use Expedia’s price matching promise. However this wasn’t easy – I’ll share how it works in another article soon.
So overall I think it’s worth seeing if you can not only price match but get an upgrade by going direct. If not, and it’s more profitable to you, then go via the cashback sites BEFORE going to the booking sites.