Today many travellers book their hotels on-line. Here are the most common mistakes that are made, problems encountered, and how to avoid them.
1. Wrong dates. I have read that 25% of all hotel reservations made by holidaymakers/business people on-line have incorrect dates mistakenly booked. No matter whether you book on an OTA (On-line Travel Agent) like Booking.com etc, or on the hotel’s own website, you must normally enter an IN and OUT date. I have no idea why people cannot get this right, but perhaps firstly because lack of concentration, or too much going on around them. Or even looking at the wrong month/week on a calendar. So at this stage CONCENTRATE.
Secondly I have often heard of people talking about the “nights of”……..That really is asking for trouble and can cause mental confusion as to when you are going IN and OUT. Some tour operators talk about IN for….nts which is ok as it will get the correct result.
2. Wrong number of rooms. Most sites will ask you how many rooms you want, but some are not as clear as they should be, and if you are not careful you may think it is the number of guests and book 2 rooms instead of 1 . Or if you are a group even worse – 8 rooms instead of 4! READ very carefully the information on the screen and again CONCENTRATE.
3. Wrong hotel. How can anyone book the wrong hotel – easy. In many towns and cities there are hotels which have very similar names with perhaps only one word different. I see this all the time and as a tour operator I also have to be very careful.
Also, hotels in a chain may have more than one hotel in that city, again with very similar names. In Vienna there are two Hilton hotels – but both very very different. You can see it everywhere.
Finally, hotels often change their name or affiliation. What was a Sheraton last week is now a Marriott. Even the local taxi drivers can get confused.
The solution is simple – always check the address of the hotel and phone the hotel if necessary.
4. Wrong room type. Do you want a twin, double, triple, quad, family room? Do you want standard, deluxe, studio, suite…..and what do they mean anyway? Do some homework or ask the hotel.
5. Totally wrong location. It is hard to believe that people book the totally wrong location – but they do when it has the same name as where they want to be. So they book the wrong city, country or continent. Duncan Evans at a lovely property, Endeavour Lodge, on Norfolk Island, tells me a fascinating fact. From time to time, he gets a frantic last minute call from someone overseas who has booked an apartment at his property, but just realized it isn’t the Norfolk they want. They want the Norfok in USA or UK….OOOPS. Too late you’ve done your money..
6. Cancellation fees. When booking on-line it will always tell you the cancellation conditions. “Specials” may have 100% cancellation fee once you book and make immediate payment, whereas others let you cancel 7 days, 5 days, 2 days etc before arrival. Individual properties can set their own conditions on the OTAs, so make sure that if you don’t want the accommodation cancel BEFORE the deadline or you have done your money. It is easy to overlook this one!
Problems – where do I start?
1. Map is totally wrong. I have seen this a number of times. The map shows that the hotel is very central but it isn’t – and not where it is shown on the OTA map. It is not deliberate but a loading error. The OTAs have hundreds of staff loading tens of thousands of hotels’ information and mistakes occur. Check with the hotel’s own website.
2. Hotel room or hotel standard is inferior to what is shown on the internet. Where do I start? I could write a book on this! See my February blog on hotel gradings for a full explanation. When a hotel signs with an OTA, they fill in an on-line form with all the hotel information. OTAS DO NOT INSPECT ANY HOTELS. But the OTAs rewrite the information the hotels send them to fit into their own format.
20 years ago the world’s largest hotel supplier to travel agents and tour operators (GTA) had 100 hotel contractors worldwide. They inspected every hotel offered, and graded and wrote a report on each one. Those days are gone. The OTAs are owned/operated by computer geeks and that is their expertise – runnning big search engines. About hotels – they don’t get involved in the nitty gritty, have not much of an idea, and most really don’t care. Buyer beware and do your homework.
One big OTA with 600,000 hotels on its site says in its TV adverts, “We know hotels”. They wouldn’t know a hotel if it jumped up and bit them on the bum! OOOPS. What is my advice if you want to find out what the hotel is really like? Go to the hotel website, look at TripAdvisor and Booking.com reviews (not a perfect solution), and Google for other reviews. What I am saying to check every information source possible. But if you don’t really care, and just want to book it because it is cheap, then go for it – but don’t complain!
And by the way – check to see what standard of room you are getting. I don’t want the worst room in the best hotel. Do you?
3. The room that I get is not the type that I booked. It happened to me in Shanghai 5 years ago. I booked a 2 room apartment with a view through wotif.com, and I was told at check in that a standard room with no view had been booked by wotif.com. They showed me the email! But I had a confirmation ON PAPER from wotif.com. They rang wotif.com and sorted to my satisfaction. Wotif.com had got it wrong. But my printed copy saved the day. Paper still speaks louder than a confirmation on your iPhone! I have more examples if you don’t believe me.
So have your paper confirmation, and politely but firmly stand your ground.
4. We have no booking for you. Yes they have – they are probably overbooked and want to “bump” you – especially if they are getting the lowest price from the OTA with whom you booked. Have your paperwork, and politely stand your ground. Again this is where paperwork is mightier than the phone! Ask them if they have an overbooking problem. If they are still are adamant that there is no booking, ask for the front office manager, politely state your case, and wait for them to sort. It is their problem.
The solution should be an upgraded room, or if they really are full (it can occasionally happen), then they pay for a taxi to a neighbouring hotel of similar standard or better where you get an upgraded room. Do not leave the desk until you are satisfied about the new hotel/room. And get a name of the manager at the new hotel.
5. Overcharging on credit card. When you book on-line you receive a firm price, and that is what you should be charged. Take a hard copy and present on check in and check out. If they want to charge more then refuse to pay, and ask for front office manager.
If you are disputing this at the front desk, with a queue behind you all listening, you will more likely get swift action. If the hotel still disputes the price tell them that you will wait (in the queue with others still listening) whilst they contact the on-line supplier. If they still charge your card with the incorrect amount, then get onto your credit card company and the OTA immediately. And with the latter raise the roof – politely!
This is when you find out how helpful your credit card company is! Mine would act in minutes to rectify the matter, and put the onus back on the hotel to prove their charge.
This matter of incorrect charging is the main reason why I won’t do an Express Checkout, where you drop the key at the desk and run. Yes it can be painful waiting in a queue, but it will be much simpler to sort a problem at the desk than by phone after you leave.
Recently I met a lady in an airport lounge who had been seriously overcharged for her hotel room. She had a confirmation from the OTA for $280 per night and the hotel had charged $350 a night. She was on the phone to both trying to rectify it when I met her. If you are reading this A…., I hope that you got it sorted to your satisfaction.
If you are busy, pushed for time, have a long itinerary, then try talking to your preferred travel agent. They also have access to hotels on-line, and with one large OTA their rates are identical to the ones that you are looking at on your screen! If you use a good travel agent they do all the work, take responsibility, and sort any problems. But the choice of course is yours.
I hope that this blog has been useful, and “unravelled” the on-line booking process for you.