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Booking Hotels: AAA or us
Old 02-07-2016, 12:59 PM   #1
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Booking Hotels: AAA or us

We are taking an east coast vacation early this fall. We have already booked our plane and Amtrak to lock in dates, and were able to take advantage of AAA discounts.

Is there any advantage to us giving a travel agent our list of cites/dates we need for accommodations and tour tickets, or should we book it ourselves directly with the hotels using our AAA cards where we can?

Also, if they book for us, and we need to make a change along the way, can we make the change with the hotel or do we need to call the travel agent to make a change?

Do we prepay the agency or do we pay the hotels as we travel?

We have read we are likely to get better rooms when we book directly, but also learned that if for example there was a natural disaster (hurricane season) AAA rebooks...

Our travel will be the last days of August and the first weeks for Sept. Traveling Virginia to Maine.

Any thoughts or experiences to share?
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Old 02-07-2016, 01:11 PM   #2
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I prefer making arrangements myself. There are usually many different options, and you cannot always know what info you would need to tell a travel agent in advance, so they would have to get back with you often and it would be very time consuming. Also, no one cares about how much you pay as much as you do.

If you do use an agent, I am sure that they would make changes if you like but they should also provide you with the reservation # and info so you could also do it yourself. Sometimes you need to make a deposit of at least one night to hold a reservation, and sometimes not. It depends on the hotel.
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Old 02-07-2016, 10:47 PM   #3
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I usually book directly.


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Old 02-07-2016, 10:52 PM   #4
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Do travel agents still exist apart from cruises?

We always book hotels directly online. They usually have a AAA rate available online. We don't go through any general hotel site like hotels.com or Expedia because if there are problems they are easier to resolve without a third party in the way. We avoid prepay but if it's a huge discount or affects availability, we do if we are very, very sure.
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Old 02-08-2016, 01:55 AM   #5
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Except for larger cities and AAA, travel agents have about ceased to exist. The internet websites ran'em out of business. Now, they charge on front end for their services--not good. Only reason to ever use a travel agent is if you were going with a group of people or if you were taking a cruise.

We travel extensively, and usually use Booking.com in most cities worldwide. They use a credit card in many instances to hold the room, but don't charge you unless you're a no show. I'll also go to ChoiceHotels.com and LQ.com (LaQuinta) to compare rates in the U.S.

When we're traveling by car, I often go without reservations. We stop at rest areas and pickup coupon books for last minute bargain rates. This lets us ramble along the way and not be in such a set schedule. We save big $ too.

I was looking at room rates around Atlanta's Lake Lanier last week. I couldn't get over how prices of rooms have risen across the board. The days of traveling on $100 a day are over--even with gasoline prices down.
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Old 02-08-2016, 11:20 AM   #6
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I book hotels for our trips and use sites like tripadvisor to read reviews before booking. Rates tend to be the same on all the major reservation sites, so it is usually best to book at the hotel itself.

I also use hotwire.com to book hotels. They give you a good price, but you don't know which hotel you're getting until you book. You do know the "star rating" of the hotel. There are sites like betterbidding.com that try to guess what hotel you're going to get and are right a lot of the time.

There are some last minute hotel booking sites that give you good discounts. These work well if you're traveling off season with a flexible schedule. I wouldn't risk a last minute booking in a popular place during peak season.
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Old 02-08-2016, 11:52 AM   #7
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AAA has travel agents.

I usually book everything myself, through Travelocity. However, when booking a couple of major trips, Alaska/Canadian Rockies and a Mediterranean cruise, we went through a travel agent, namely, AAA.

But for hotels, it is easy to research online. Trip Advisor had reviews as do the travel websites.

Virginia is a gorgeous state. DS went to college there.


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Old 02-08-2016, 01:54 PM   #8
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We book all our accommodations ourselves because we want what we want and we want it at the best price possible.

And we book through third party web sites (primarily Hotels.com and Bookings, but also others) almost exclusively. We only ever book directly with hotels if there's a good reason to do that - either because they have the best price, some other perk, or it's the only way to book the property.

We're currently staying in our 154th hotel booked through third party websites and have never had a single problem (did I just jinx myself?)

Our go-to site for hotel bookings is Hotels.com because they have a good rewards program. It basically works out to be a 10% off program for frequent travelers. Hotels.com also offers a "price match" service so I'll often find the best rate on the internet, have Hotels.com match the price, and then also get credit towards a 10% discount on future books.

Happy travels.
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Old 02-08-2016, 04:42 PM   #9
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Many companies still use corporate travel agents.

Back before FIRE, I'd annoy the corporate travel department all the time by booking my own travel. I cared way more about flying at specific times and long/short layovers than they did. I got away with it because my boss wanted to keep me happy.
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Old 02-08-2016, 05:19 PM   #10
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I suggest that you book your rooms directly with the hotel or online at their brand website. You may also want to sign up for a frequent stay program and earn points if you plan on staying at least 10-12 nights in the hotels. Suggest that you choose one hotel company (Choicehotels.com, ihg.com, etc.) and stay at the hotels affiliated with that franchise company to maximize on earning points if that is important to you. If you plan ahead you can usually get good deals on the brand websites by reserving "Advance Paid reservation"- they are usually non-changeable and non-cancellable but will save you north of 15%. I would suggest you stay away from travel agents and 3rd party website which are nothing but online travel agencies except to shop across brands and then reserving with hotel directly or on it's website. Happy traveling.
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Old 02-08-2016, 05:34 PM   #11
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I suggest that you book your rooms directly with the hotel or online at their brand website.
I'm curious why you recommend this. My experience is that the hotel site is almost always the most expensive way to book the hotel.
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Old 02-08-2016, 06:14 PM   #12
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I'm curious why you recommend this. My experience is that the hotel site is almost always the most expensive way to book the hotel.
My experience has been the opposite. I see the prices advertised by booking.com all the time, and I usually match that price or get a lower price by going directly to the hotel website. Often more choices presented as well.

In addition - if there is a misplaced reservation, overbooking, or need to cancel/rearrange things once the stay begins, it's usually much less hassle dealing with the hotel without a third party booking agent involved. No opportunity for finger pointing by the hotel. That has been my main reason for directly booking, but I have found that financially I'm often ahead as well.
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Old 02-08-2016, 07:05 PM   #13
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I always book with the hotel or the chains website. We check the online price and occasionally call the hotel direct. Maybe not the cheapest but there are other considerations. With a frequent customer status the room upgrades are a big plus. My DW and I just stayed in an ocean front suite when we paid for a back facing king. Also if there's a problem it is quickly addressed through the front desk or the chains customer service dept.
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Old 02-08-2016, 07:19 PM   #14
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I'm curious why you recommend this. My experience is that the hotel site is almost always the most expensive way to book the hotel.
I am in the hotel business (own franchised hotels). Franchised hotels are bound by franchise agreements and contractually must offer deep discounts and commissions to 3rd party websites viz: Expedia (largest), Priceline, Booking.com(owned by Priceline). You can usually reserve a hotel room at these 3rd party websites at Promo rates which are normally 10% off the rates you see on hotel's brand website. Yes, EXPEDIA is the 800 # Gorilla in this online travel agency (OTA) market and gets the deepest discounts.

One thing that hotels control 100% is how many rooms to assign to OTA's at these deep discounted rates. Hotels will close all such discounted rates on busy days. So if you want a room on days that the hotel is expecting 100% occupancy you will not get a better deal anywhere. However if you call the hotel directly and speak to the manager who know that if you reserve a room on an OTA it will cost the hotel 10-15% in commissions, the manager will most likely give you at least a small discount even on sold out days to avoid paying commissions.

On the other hand if you want to stay on a normal day(Not sold out day). and let's say the hotel's room rate on the website is $100+Tax. The hotel will open its inventory to OTA'S @ $70-$80+Tax per room. When you reserve a room on OTA website (Expedia etc.) they will most likely offer you a rate of $90+Tax (yes---it looks less than the rate displayed on hotel's website and it is because hotel is bound by its contract with OTA's to not charge more than the rate offered by OTA's. You will gladly reserve the room at the OTA site for $90+Tax and EXPEDIA/PRICELINE etc. will bill your credit card immediately. EXPEDIA/Priceline then will provide a virtual credit card to the hotel to bill the OTA for your stay upon your check out of the hotel. The hotel in this case gets only between $70-$80+Tax (depending on their agreement with the OTA). Naturally hotel does not like this and so if you call directly and talk to the manager he will most likely give you a rate less than $90+Tax (that OTA is billing you) and you will also have more flexibility in case your travel plans change. If you have ever tried to call the OTA to change or cancel a reservation you will agree that it is a big hassle .

Last but not the least-when you book directly with the hotels you will earn frequent traveler points which you won't get if the reservation is made thru the OTA at Promo rate.

Trust me, call the hotel direct and speak to the manager (not a front desk clerk). If hotel is not expecting to fill up you will surely get a better deal.
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Old 02-08-2016, 07:56 PM   #15
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My experience has been the opposite. I see the prices advertised by booking.com all the time, and I usually match that price or get a lower price by going directly to the hotel website. Often more choices presented as well.
Weird. I always check the hotel website if there is one (not a sure thing around most of the world) and never end up booking there. Maybe it depends on your choice of hotel.

P.S. If you find a better price on line, Hotels will match it . . . plus 10% "rewards" that can be used against most hotel booking instead of being restricted to a single hotel chain
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Old 02-08-2016, 08:00 PM   #16
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You can usually reserve a hotel room at these 3rd party websites at Promo rates which are normally 10% off the rates you see on hotel's brand website. . . .

Trust me, call the hotel direct and speak to the manager (not a front desk clerk). If hotel is not expecting to fill up you will surely get a better deal.
So what you're saying is that the 3rd party sites really do have the best on-line rates but that sometimes, but not always, you can do even better by calling up and negotiating the rate. That's a good tip.

And I'll try it whenever I book a room where I can speak the local language . . . which isn't often.
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Old 02-08-2016, 08:03 PM   #17
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Since you are taking Amtrak have you talked to Amtrak Vacations? Last year was having trouble finding a reasonably priced room in Washington DC for a week (no special events during the time of our trip). They were able to find a room near a subway station that was cheaper than anything that I could find. Almost all of the best rates that I could find were non-cancelable/non-refundable. Amtrak Vacations was able to book the room including free trip insurance if we had to cancel the trip.

Normally, I do my own research to find accommodations but for this trip appreciated the assistance.
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Old 02-08-2016, 09:51 PM   #18
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I'd say it sometimes has to do with timing.

We were in the FL Keys last week and booked directly using the AAA rate. The prior week had been cool and the hotel was not even half full. We were able to upgrade (simply by asking) to a water view room for no up-charge. Worked out nice as the weather jumped to the high 70's and we had a blast.
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Old 02-08-2016, 10:17 PM   #19
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So what you're saying is that the 3rd party sites really do have the best on-line rates but that sometimes, but not always, you can do even better by calling up and negotiating the rate. That's a good tip.

And I'll try it whenever I book a room where I can speak the local language . . . which isn't often.
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Old 02-09-2016, 05:11 AM   #20
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Thanks for your feedback Rickt on a subject--from a pro.

Although we're using Booking.com predominantly, most of our retirement travel is international. I have some pricing concerns from time to time.

I was appalled last year at one weekend's pricing for all Booking.com's listings for Louisville. I've been there often, and I'm not paying any $100 a night for ultra budget rooms. I researched hotel websites individually and got their normal pricing.

This last week, prices around an Atlanta suburb on Booking.com were north of $100 for every room when I've been staying there for years for far less. There again, I have found rooms online for normal pricing.

Booking.com is not this way all the time and they're not that way everywhere. Just be careful when booking rooms--and don't hesitate to check direct rates if things appear out of line.

But worldwide, Booking's got accommodations everywhere. If you're looking for a tent on a yak farm in Outer Mongolia, chances are Booking.com can accommodate your wishes.
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