Hotel bookings: how to get the best deal

Our survey found you can usually get a better deal phoning the hotel directly.

20sep booking hotels hero

Hotel booking sites can seem like the hassle-free way of snaring a great-value room for your next trip away. However, we’ve found you can usually get a better deal phoning the hotel directly.

With international travel on hold and Covid-19 turning trips away into a lottery, accommodation providers are competing hard for your holiday dollars. In the three months to June, hotel and motel prices fell 14 percent.

We checked out prices for three getaways: a weekend for two in Auckland and Christchurch, and a three-night stay for a family of four in Rotorua. For each trip, we used Booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com, Trivago and Wotif to get the top five deals (with free cancellation) recommended by the sites – 75 in total. We then contacted the hotel directly to see if we could get a better bargain.

In most cases, you’re better off phoning the hotel directly. For nearly two-thirds of the 75 quotes we collected, it was cheaper going direct. A further quarter (19) were the same price or within one dollar. Booking sites only gave us a cheaper price on nine occasions (see “Our survey”).

Booking sites might make you think you’re getting the sharpest price possible. For example, Trivago showed us a two-night stay at Auckland City Hotel advertised on Agoda.com for “79 percent off today. Original price $891.20, you saved $707.28”. However, we phoned the hotel directly and were quoted a cheaper price.

It was a similar story with The Shakespeare Hotel. Trivago’s Agoda price claimed to be 75 percent off, but we saved an additional 10 percent by calling the hotel.

Direct for deals

By contacting the hotel directly, you can find out about additional deals. The All Seasons Holiday Park in Rotorua had a school holiday promotion for the nights we surveyed. Kids pay their age per night, rather than the standard $19. The Rendezvous Hotel in Christchurch gave you a cheeseboard and bottle of wine with a direct booking.

Some hotels also give you a discount if you join their membership clubs, which are usually free to join.

Before you call, it’s worth checking out a hotel’s website. We did this for our Rotorua trip and found in 13 out of 25 situations, the price was different – seven times the website quote was cheaper and on six occasions it was more expensive than the price given on the phone.

Booking tips

  • Do your research: use several sites to get a feel for pricing in the area you’re visiting.

  • Make a call: once you’ve found a good price, contact the hotel directly to ask if it can beat it. The hotel may have special deals the booking sites don’t offer. It’s also a good idea to check the hotel’s website for rates.

  • Ask about other discounts: if you’re a regular traveller, you may be able to negotiate a bigger discount.

  • Opt for free cancellation: if you find a better deal elsewhere, you can cancel with no financial loss. But check the fine print, there’s usually a cut-off date for cancelling.

Our survey

For each getaway, we used Booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com, Trivago and Wotif to get the top five deals (with free cancellation) recommended by the sites. We then contacted the hotel directly to get a price. Prices were for the same day and same room type.

Auckland (2 adults, 2 nights)

Booking direct with hotel was:

  • cheaper on 17 out of 25 occasions
  • the same (or within $1) on 6 occasions.

Average savings booking direct: $33.59
Biggest saving: $82 (Goodview Hotel: $200 booking direct; $282 booking on Hotels.com)

Christchurch (2 adults, 2 nights)

Booking direct with hotel was:

  • cheaper on 17 out of 25 occasions
  • the same (or within $1) on 5 occasions.

Average savings booking direct: $36.75
Biggest saving: $156 (The Salisbury Hotel: $220 booking direct; $376 booking on Hotels.com)

Rotorua (2 adults, 2 children aged 8 & 11, 3 nights)

Booking direct with hotel was:

  • cheaper on 13 out of 25 occasions
  • the same (or within $1) on 8 occasions.

Average savings booking direct: $75.54
Biggest saving: $192 (The Jet Park Hotel: $432 booking direct; $624 booking on Wotif.co.nz)

Behind the booking sites

Expedia and Booking Holdings are the two main players in the booking site market. They each own several subsidiary brands. Expedia’s subsidiaries include Wotif and Hotels.com, and it’s the major shareholder of Trivago. Booking Holdings is behind Booking.com and Agoda.

These sites make their money by charging hotels and motels a commission for each reservation. Trivago’s website aggregates deals offered by hotel booking sites (such as Agoda and Booking.com) and a hotel’s direct site and clips the ticket on each click to a site.

Consumers don’t always benefit from booking site deals. In January, after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took Trivago to court, the Australian Federal Court found the website breached consumer laws.

The ruling found Trivago obtained different rates of commission from booking websites and regularly highlighted those that paid more commission, rather than those offering the cheapest rate. The court also found Trivago’s price comparisons were misleading – often exaggerating the savings by comparing the price of a standard room against a luxury one. When Consumer investigated Trivago in 2018, we found price comparisons were like-for-like just 13 percent of the time.

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Member comments

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John J.
20 Sep 2020
Free rooms

The majority of my bookings are for business and I don't have the time to negotiate with hotels/motels. Hotels.com gives me a free night after any 10 nights booked. Hotel chains often offer the same but the 10 nights have to be in their chain. Severely limiting my options.

Kate R.
19 Sep 2020
cancellation policies

I think the main reason I use Booking.com and similar sites is that they usually have really good cancellation policies, which this year has been essential due to cancelled flights, lockdown etc. I find the motel/hotel sites generally aren't as generous with their owncancellation polices. But yes worth checking with them when calling them direct to see how they compare

Ian B.
19 Sep 2020
Hotel bookings

2yrs ago I made a booking online to a motel near ChCh airport. I went to the hotels website and Bookings.Com came up on the website, I thought the booking had to be made this way so, I made the booking for the one night I required. My problem started when I arrived back home When checking my Emails a month or so later, there were emails from Bookings.com offering me deals for holidays etc. I cancelled their site and they stopped. A month ago they started up again, this means they keep your address and target you when ever. I just want to warn others who use these sites that, if you do they could pester you for ever regardless. Ian Boswell