The days of third-party travel Web sites are numbered.
The biggest misconception in travel is that you have to shop around for the lowest rates and fares. This simply is not the case.
Right now, hotel and airline sites are extremely competitive by offering exclusive deals and added value only available on these sites. In most cases, you get the best deal directly with travel providers.
In all instances you get better value.
Consider my recent experience booking a hotel room at the San Francisco Hilton. Mistakenly, I reserved my room for the wrong night. A few weeks later, when I called the hotel to confirm my room and ask for an upgrade I was informed that I didn't have a room reserved for June 22, but I did have a room back in May which I had not showed up for. After explaining my mistake, the representative reversed my "no-show" charges and booked me a new room at a discounted rate.
This type of added-value service would not have been afforded to me if I had booked my room on a third-party Web site.
And consider the facts. Consumer Reports recently evaluated Internet travel sites, concluding that not one site consistently provides a lower rate or fare. Meaning it's better to earn loyalty with a select few quality travel providers and reap the benefits of your relationship. These benefits include preferred services, upgrades and discounted rates.
Here's what I mean. This month, I've booked hotel rooms in seven different cities.
Four rooms were booked on Hyatt.com, two with Hilton.com, and one at Starwood.com. In each instance, I compared rates with the top three hotel sites, Hotels.com, Expedia, and Travelocity. Consistently, I received lower rates by booking directly on the hotels' Web sites. Not only this, but I did not have to pay a booking fee, make advance payment and was not restricted to a ridiculous cancellation policy.
Also lacking on third-party Web sites is personalization. With their highly advanced customer management tools, travel providers can customize your Web experiences to your liking. You favor a non-allergic pillow - it's in your record and your room will have foam pillows.
Buying direct also has benefits for time-crunched travelers. Consider the story I was told after giving a speech. A traveler came up to me and described how he spent six hours researching fares on the Internet. He told me that he saved $25, but wasted six hours that could have been spent with his family, friends, or reading a good book (like mine).
In short, there is no reason to shop around for the lowest fare or rate - it does not exist.
All travel providers offer competitively similar rates and fares. Further, since there is no one to hold accountable at a third party Web site, you're asking for trouble and certainly you will not experience the admirable service I was offered at the San Francisco Hilton.
At best, the experience is a little bit like online casino gambling - sometimes you win, but you have to be lucky.