Friends don’t let friends use booking sites.
I know; I know: You’ve seen the ads on television–a blandly handsome man jumping on a bed and telling you to book a room through his website if you want the lowest rate on a clean room with a great view of the city.
He even guarantees that it will be the lowest rate. And that sounds good, right?
Except here’s the thing: he can’t guarantee that it’s the lowest rate. He doesn’t own any hotels…he can’t actually set a hotel’s prices.
But we can. And you get the benefit. Actually, you get a lot of benefits when you book directly through a hotel’s website–and I’m talking about all properties, not just ours. For instance:
When you book with some national sites, you’re booking what is called the “run of the house”, or the “manager’s choice”. Why would you let a hotel manager choose what room you’re getting? How do they know if you want a great shower, with body jets and a rain shower head? Does the hotel manager know if you want a first floor room? Or a bright and airy room? Or alternatively a dark and sexy room? They don’t. They pick the room they think is least likely to sell to someone walking in and actually looking at the rooms. And that means that you don’t get to choose at all.
When I worked an outside job, I frequently traveled to hotels where other people made the reservations for me. A lot of times those reservations were made through a third party site. My room always seemed to be the loudest room–the one right next to the elevator. And I almost never got a room with a nice view. I am not a light sleeper, and I was not in my room much, so I didn’t complain. But if I had booked directly I could have asked for a quiet room, or one with the best view.
Booking directly is even more important when you’re staying at an independently owned, small hotel. We don’t have any run-of-mill rooms–they are all very unique, in terms of location, décor, and amenities. We want you to be able to pick the room that suits you best.
When you book directly, you can trust the description of the room, and the amenities.
At our St. Augustine hotel we have 15 rooms in our downtown location–it would seem that the national booking sites would be able to keep our amenities up to date. After all, I report the information. And I double check it after it is posted to ensure it’s accurate. So it should be correct, right?
A few months ago, someone complained that their room did not have a hot tub. We were all confused–we don’t have any hot tubs? Where did they see that on our site? They didn’t. They saw it on a national booking site.
Later that night, we did an audit of our rooms on that same national booking site–and we found all kinds of errors! It said we had a restaurant on site (we serve breakfast every day, but we don’t have a restaurant), as well as hot tubs and a hotel pool. I made a list of all of the mistakes and called our rep–only to be told that the *website* made those adjustments based on guests’ comments and reviews.
Our rep explained: Several people mentioned food–and the algorithm said “Oh, food comments. There must be a restaurant.” So they automatically added a restaurant. People said they enjoyed the big tubs in their rooms–and suddenly the man in the machine said “They must have a hot tub”. And the pool? It came from a review from a different property in town, one with a name similar to ours. I may have filled out the descriptions correctly, but the site didn’t ask me to update them–they did that on their own. And they didn’t even tell me that they were doing it.
When you use a national booking site, you probably aren’t paying the lowest price.
Again, no third party site can say that they advertise the lowest price…we own the rooms, and if anyone is going to get a great deal, it’s going to be our favorite customers who come to our website and book their room directly. National booking sites can take up to 30% of the posted rate on their site! (And we used to think it was outrageous for an ATM to charge $5 to give us our own money).
We’re talking about the Bayfront Marin House specifically now: we run specials throughout the year. We have a summer special where you can save up to $40/night–you won’t read about that on a national booking site. Want to do something romantic on your trip? You also won’t see anything about packages we have–no chocolate strawberries or carriage rides or champagne in your room. Plus, you won’t learn about some of the special amenities we have through the year–sure, you can enjoy complimentary margaritas every Thursday night in the summer, but you won’t know about them until you arrive for happy hour. And wouldn’t you like to have that information as you’re making your decision?
If you book directly on our website, you’ll have that information at your fingertips (or mouse click).
If you have an emergency and have to change your reservation, we may not be able to help you.
You’re looking forward to your vacation. You need the time off from work. There is no way you’re not coming to St. Augustine next month!
Except sometimes unexpected things happen. And you have to change your plans.
Some of the booking sites collect the money from you, and they hold that money until the end of the month. So if you need to make a change to your reservation, we can’t refund your money because we don’t have it.
This glitch has caused a lot of additional stress for some of our guests. If there is an emergency and you have to cancel your vacation or leave early, wouldn’t you rather just work that through with us? If you paid the booking engine directly, you have to call them, give them your reservation number (who wants to find that when you’re already stressed out?), wait on hold, then explain the situation to a customer service representative.
We can try to call the booking site on your behalf, but we don’t have any better leverage than you do–there is no “bat phone” for hotels to call in to these sites and get preferential treatment.
If you want preferential treatment, you should always talk to the hotel directly.
It’s Okay if You Didn’t Know
Now, if you do book a room through another site, we are not going to treat you any differently than we would if you had booked directly. In fact, we don’t even look at individual reservations to see where they came from (although we do look at that in aggregate reports every month). The *only* time we look at how an individual guest booked their reservation is when that guest says “I thought you had a business center?” and we want to see which third party website we need to update now. (Note: You can tell those third party sites multiple times that a room has a king bed, or a water view, or we offer bicycles for our guests…but a lot of times, those changes don’t get made on their end. It’s VERY frustrating for us–as well as our guests!)
Booking directly or through a booking site doesn’t change your experience once you arrive–we love that you chose us, no matter how you decided to make the reservation, and we will take care of you and obsess over your vacation as if it was our own.
But booking directly will change the accuracy of the information you read about our property, our rooms, and our amenities. And we’d like to think that our site makes it easier, too. Instead of sifting through hundreds of properties and cities, just click that book now button on the right hand side of this page. Or call us at 904.824.4301–we promise you won’t have to hit four or five numbers before you get to a human. We’re all humans here!
So DON’T book your rooms through the site the blandly handsome man recommends. Oh, and by the way–don’t jump on the bed either. Your mother was right–you’ll ruin the mattress.