Why Sometimes I DON’T Book Direct

You hear it all the time “Book direct, you’ll get a better deal!” While sometimes that is the case, there are other times when booking through a third party makes more sense. Here is why I sometimes book direct and why sometimes I don’t.

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When Do I Book Direct

There is one thing I always book direct, with no exceptions and that is for flights.

Whenever I hear a crazy flight story where everything has gone wrong it almost always invariably involves a booking through a third party.

Usually the third party does not cause the issue, but it can make it much harder to get a resolution to the problem.

A friend of mine was flying back to Adelaide from Europe. Her international flight landed in Melbourne, but her domestic flight across to Adelaide was cancelled. A simple issue that should be resolved by the airline putting the passenger on the next flight.

My friend had booked through a well-known travel agent, and rather than dealing with the airline directly to get on another flight, she had to go back and forth with the travel agent, which took hours.

Whenever I have had issues, they have always been resolved fairly quickly by dealing with the airline direct. I may not always get the desired result, but at least I can quickly decide without going back and forth.

Some of the other things to look out for when booking flights with third parties are flights that are not actually “connecting” and you need to collect your luggage, maybe go through immigration and customs, and check in again.

This will mean you need more than the usual transit times, and often it will also mean there is no liability if the first flight is late and you miss the second flight since there is no relationship between the airlines involved.

So for flights, I book direct, always.

When I Don’t Book Direct

Well, pretty much everything else is up for consideration. I often take a look at my go-to third-party websites first, simply because they are an easy starting point.

For accommodation that means I start with Booking.com. Now not everyone is on there, so there are still times when I want to stay at a particular property that I will book direct.

I may not be able to find anything suitable on Booking.com in some locations, or I may be leveraging a hotel points program which may also mean I book direct.

For tours and activities, I tend to look at the big names first, such as Viator, Get Your Guide and Klook. I would almost certainly book through them unless I can get a significantly better deal booking direct or the activity I want to do is only available direct.

For car hire I tend to book through RentalCars.com. They are a good site to start the search, and I generally find a deal on there I am happy with.

Reasons Why I Choose a Third Party

But why, when we know all the benefits of booking direct, do I choose to instead go through a third party?

Here are some of my reasons

It’s Not Always Cheaper Booking Direct

The common belief is that it is always cheaper to book direct. Often this is the case, because the supplier does not have to pay the charges to the third party so they can pass on those savings to the customer.

In practice, it doesn’t always work like this. Firstly, many of the supplier agreements with the third parties actually prohibit them from discounting for direct sales.

It’s also possible that the third-party sites will offer their own discounts. For example, on Booking.com they have their “Genius” levels for customers who book regularly.

It’s quite common for me to be offered 10, 15 or even 20% off the price as a Genius Level 3.

Take a look at the below example. I searched for a 1-night stay for two people in a standard room at the TRYP Adelaide hotel on a random day in May next year.

A screenshot from the TRYP Wyndham website
From the TRYP Wyndham website
A screenshot of a booking screen on Booking.com
Booking.com screenshot

I did not have to search hard to find a rate that suited my argument – this was literally the first hotel I looked at.

The cheapest rate is only available on Booking.com – but that is non-cancellable. Comparing the two cancellable rates so that we’re looking at similar products, on Booking.com the room is $179, and on the TRYP website it is $199.

It’s not only about the price either. When I look at these two bookings, I can pay later at the property both with Booking.com and on the TRYP website. This is not always the case though.

I have booked places directly that require the payment there and then, whereas if the booking is made through a third party, the payment is taken later or paid when arriving at the property.

In this case, both platforms allow cancellations up to the day before check-in, but it is not uncommon to find different cancellation policies between the two options.

The benefit of not paying in advance on Booking.com if the property requires it when booking direct means no chasing money if you do have to cancel.

Instead, it’s a few clicks online and it’s done. No phone calls, no emails, no explaining why you need to cancel.

Things can and do go wrong no matter which way you book. I’ve made hundreds of bookings over the years, both direct and indirect, and I’ve only had one issue with Booking.com – and it wouldn’t have been an issue if we didn’t mess up first!

We were in Stockholm, going to Helsinki. A couple of days before we discovered we had booked our flights on the wrong day. We emailed the Helsinki accommodation to let them know we were still coming but would be a day late.

The email – through the Booking.com platform – did not reach them, so when we arrived the next day, we no longer had a booking. Thankfully we could show them that we had emailed and they found another room for us.

It’s Easier to Book Direct

How simple is it to just jump on an app, put in some dates and your accommodation is sorted? You are familiar with the layout, your details are likely saved and it’s right there on your phone.

When going direct, you will need to find the website and check all the details carefully – which can sometimes be like finding a needle in a haystack.

The website might be difficult to navigate, parts may not work or the information may be out of date – all very common when dealing with smaller suppliers.

Only yesterday I emailed someone about a tour I had heard they do. It’s mentioned on their website, but no real details. The reply that came back said he was meeting with his web development team soon to get the website updated.

We have to remember, these small businesses run tours or a B&B, they are not necessarily great at looking after their websites and social media

Alternatively, you need to get on the phone. Now you have to deal with time zones, potentially different languages and the cost of international calls. They may want payment upfront in a manner that seems decided dodgy (even though it probably isn’t).

Two hands holding a phone showing an accommodation booking site

Third Parties Are Often Part of Cashback Programs

You can save even more money by using a cashback program that offers further rewards when making a purchase through a larger company.

I use Cashrewards (Australia & NZ only) but there are other programs out there too. When I book with larger companies there is often a deal to get up to 10, 15, or even sometimes 20% cash back.

While some hotel chains, cruise companies, airlines and tour operators are on here, the smaller places are not, so this is another way to save even more on your booking.

On the above booking, I could have saved another 6% with Cashrewards, perhaps more on their special bonus days by booking through Booking.com.

My Tips For Smart Booking

Here are a few things I think about before I hit that “Book Now” button anywhere.

  • Price is important, but it’s not the only thing
  • Read the information carefully and understand exactly what is included and what isn’t
  • Look at maps, both for accommodation and where tours start. You don’t want to book a long day tour leaving at 7am an hour away from your accommodation if there is a better choice.
  • Consider add-ons, like breakfast for hotels or hotel pickup for tours. They can make a difference to your day.
  • Always book with a credit card. The CC companies have fraud protection in place and you will be reimbursed if something goes wrong. Pay with a debit card or bank transfer, the protection isn’t always as easy to access.
  • Pay in the local currency if given an alternative. Your credit card will have better conversion rates than the business, which will invariably round-up (wouldn’t you in their position?)

So next time you are booking, don’t assume booking direct will give you the best deal, compare the options and you may be surprised.

Find more ways to save when travelling with these posts
6 Ways to Save Money on Travel
Free Things to Do in Sydney
What Staying in a Hostel is Really Like for a Gen Xer

TRAVEL PLANNING ESSENTIALS

Find flights – I always use Skyscanner as my starting point when searching for flights. One search will give many options including airlines I may not have thought of. This means I can find the best possible flights to suit my needs

Book accommodation – my go to is always Booking.com for the best places to stay. It’s not just hotels anymore, but hostels, apartments, B&Bs and more. I love that the bookings are usually cancellable, and that I can book now and pay later.

Hire a rental carRentalCars.com is my go to here. It allows me to do just one search and it finds cars from many of the different supplies, so no checking multiple websites to compare.

Get travel insurance – you would have heard by now that saying “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. If we’ve learnt anything from the last couple of years it should be how essential travel insurance is. I use CoverMore for my insurance.

Pick up an eSIM – I tried an eSIM on my last trip and it was fantastic. I set it up before I went so it was ready as soon as I landed, and I still had access to my home number for emergencies. Get your own eSIM at Airalo.

Book activities, tours & attractions – I use a few different websites for this. Viator and Get Your Guide tend to be the first places I look. In Asia, Klook often has more options, and in Australia it’s Experience Oz.

Manage your money – the best way to manage your different currencies is with an account from Wise. You can hold money in many different currencies, and use them with the ATM card or from your phone.

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