All travel suppliers want consumers to book direct, making their reservations on the company’s website, via the company’s smartphone app, or by phone through the company’s reservations center. Direct booking means the airlines and hotels pay no commissions to intermediaries, so the full price of the flight or room night flows to the provider, not to Expedia or a Main Street travel agent.
Plus, maintaining control of the traveler’s purchase experience gives travel suppliers the opportunity to cross-sell and up-sell. Need a rental car with that flight? How about an upgrade to premium economy?
There is, in short, plenty of money to be made by simply shifting existing customers from mediated to direct booking.
Southwest’s is one example of managing sales to maximize profit: The airline doesn’t sell through online travel agencies. But that’s too extreme for most airlines and hotels, which still depend on agent bookings for a significant portion of their sales even as they want to minimize them. The alternative approach, adopted by most airlines and hotels, is to swear fealty to their agency “partners” while giving customers special incentives to bypass agency channels and book direct.
Marriott’s Discounted Member Rates
Marriott this week announced its latest direct-booking incentive: specially discounted room rates for Marriott Rewards members who book direct, beginning on April 11. The discount will be “at least two percent on weekdays and up to five percent on weekends,” and will apply to a hotel’s “lowest applicable available public rates for non-premium rooms.”
Hilton rolled out a similar loyalty-program benefit last month, with these direct-booking discounts:
- A 2 percent discount on best-available rate for bookings made within 14 days of arrival
- A 3 percent discount on best-available rate for bookings made 15 days or more prior to arrival, for stays Sunday – Thursday (Saturday – Wednesday in the Middle East)
- A 10 percent discount on best-available rate for bookings made 15 days or more prior to arrival, for stays Friday – Saturday (Thursday – Friday in the Middle East)
As is Hilton’s, Marriott’s discount is being promoted as one among a package of perks available to loyalty-program members, including a best-rate guarantee and free WiFi. In fact, the loyalty program itself functions as a direct-booking incentive, since “rooms booked through third party online retailers, such as Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, Hotels.com, Booking.com, Priceline.com, Tripadvisor.com or any other 3rd party online/mobile travel portal (regardless of how the hotel is paid) are not eligible for Points or Elite night credit.”
All of which raises the question: Why book through an agency, when only Marriott gives me a discount and loyalty points?
Reader Reality Check
Do you find yourself increasingly booking direct with hotels and airlines?
After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.
This article first appeared on SmarterTravel.com, where Tim Winship is Editor-at-Large.