Travel Features

Tips for booking hotel rooms online

Today many seasoned travelers have switched to making online booking of their hotel rooms.

Looking left and right, you see your friends, your neighbors all doing it. If you are still doing the traditional way – either calling up a hotel directly or booking via a physical travel agent – this article is written to give you the right tips for booking hotel rooms online.

Today there are many large websites that sell rooms online. They include Expedia,, Orbitz, and etc.

How do people book hotel rooms?

There are three main ways that travelers book rooms:

  • Direct from the hotel
  • Via a travel agent
  • Online

The traditional methods of room booking are either direct from the hotel or via a travel agent. Increasingly, however, more and more people are booking online, and I shall explain shortly why this is an option that you should consider.

But first, is there a benefit of booking directly from the hotel itself?

tips for booking hotels onlineIf you are the type, who feel more confident dealing directly with the hotel, by all means, you should book direct. Also, from time to time, hotels may offer off-season prices that are incredibly attractive.

On the other hand, if you are dealing directly with the hotel, you have nobody to be your advocate in case something goes wrong. Secondly, it is not necessarily so that you will be offered the best rates. And since you are an individual customer, you are unlikely to enjoy the “unpublished rates” that can be substantially lower than the rack rate offered to you.

Should I use a travel agent?

My advice is, if you need to, use not just any travel agent, but a good one. By that, I mean a travel agent who will listen to your needs and offer professional advice that suits you, not himself.

However, in a real world where agents are often offered incentives to push particular rooms, your interest may conflict with his, and his interest usually triumphs yours.

Now, why should anybody book online? If you are traveling on a packaged tour, you will bypass the need for online booking, but for free, independent travelers, this is an important consideration.

Is it true that online booking is cheaper?

Not always, but many times it is. But how is it possible for the online bookings sites to offer prices that are below what the hotels are offering directly to walk-in customers?

What happens is, before those rooms reach the retail customers (you), the big guys (online booking sites) have already scooped up the choicest morsels. And since they are wholesale buyers, they can negotiate very attractive rates for buying bulk (it’s like the difference between Tesco and 7-Eleven).

As far as the hotels are concerned, the top priority is to make sure they fill up as many rooms as possible, every single day. So they are quite happy to sell off a whole block of rooms to the online booking sites for a little more than a song, and never having to worry about selling those rooms themselves.

Any unsold room on each day is profit burnt. Thus the hotels would rather make less than make nothing at all. In our Penang Hokkien lingo, we say they “liak3 tng2 por1 te4” (“catch the long to compensate for the short”). In times where demand is strong, they raise their room rates, when demand is poor, they lower the rates. That’s why there is such a thing as “low season”, “high season” and “peak season”.

The same room – same size and same facilities – goes for different prices at different times of the year according to fluctuating demand.

Having bought at very low rates, online agencies then re-sells these rooms to you. Even after they have marked up their margin, the rate offered to you may still be much lower than the rack rate from the hotel.

Is there a downside to buying your room from online agencies?

As with all forms of e-commerce, you are responsible for your action. Therefore, understand the booking terms and conditions before booking.

Most online agencies offer lots of cool tools to help you do your homework. You get to read the reviews by actual guests, you are provided maps to select the location of hotels, you can filter your search based on criteria of your choice (with swimming pool, or car park, for example), and at the end of the day, you get what you chose.

To be sure, booking hotel rooms online is not for everybody.

Those who are nervous about buying things online and those who need the tender loving care of human interaction should go the traditional way. But for an increasing number of savvy travelers, online hotel booking provides you the opportunity to stretch your dollar, while at the same time, regaining control over exactly what you want (and not what the travel agent say you ought to get).

Add to it the convenience of being able to do it any time of the day, in your pajamas if you wish, booking hotel rooms online is not something to be quickly dismissed.

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