Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 5 December 2019

I'm aggy about aggregators: Why you should always book directly with hotels

Unclear pricing, bogus discounts and bad customer service – plus, they take a big slice of the pie from the small hospitality operators that do the bulk of the work

Some aggregators may overcharge Getty
Some aggregators may overcharge Getty

They’re deceptive on pricing, they take money from operators (who do the bulk of the work) and their customer service can be disconnected and confusing. Those are just some of the reasons I’m done with online aggregators and sites when booking my travel.

Last weekend I spent about 90 minutes on a chat service with a car rental aggregator. Not my idea of a good time. I wanted to move the drop-off location of my fully refundable and changeable booking. Easy, right? Nope.

It started out as well as can be expected when you are on a car rental chatline on a Friday night, but then, shudder, I got a “trying to reconnect” alert – the service had dropped off. I started a new chat, explained the change all over again, they sent me a new quote and I discovered they hadn’t absorbed half of my request. I started explaining it to them again, and then, the return of the “trying to reconnect” spinning wheel of doom.

For the next 60 minutes, versions of the above repeated themselves until I reached peak angry customer and asked them to cancel my booking.

I then went to a car rental company’s website, booked directly and it took five minutes.

Patchy customer service aside, one of my greatest gripes with these websites is how they try to trick you into thinking you’ve got a good deal.

I recently stayed at a hotel in the US after using a big online booking service and received an email saying it would cost just under Dh3,000. The website had that price in big, bold print, and on the assistant chat they told me the same – just under Dh3,000.

But at the hotel I was charged about Dh4,500 – because a $25 (Dh92) resort fee per night, 14 per cent tax and 2.2 per cent city tax were not included.

Concealing the real price may make me click on to your site, but feeling ripped off does not foster my loyalty.

Yes, I know, ultimately this was my oversight: I didn’t read the fine print. But I do resent the fact I opened an app, typed in a request to know the total price and was ­essentially lied to. Concealing the real price may make me click on to your site, but feeling ripped off does not foster my loyalty.

I’m off to Ireland this week, and have booked my accommodation directly with the hotels and B&Bs. The experience has been lovely, and some of them have already recommended restaurants in the area, or the most scenic way to drive around the country.

Another big reason I’ve started to book direct is that I like the fact all of my money will go to the hardworking people in those small hotels and B&Bs, without a portion being sent to Silicon Valley et al. On its website, Booking.com says it takes between 10 per cent to 25 per cent commission from its “accommodation partners”.

I used to own a restaurant, so I know how hard the hospitality business is, and how fine the line is between profit and loss. In my mind, the (hopefully) friendly faces I come across in Ireland are the ones who deserve all of my dirhams.

Although, with my newfound attitude I’m now a haughty hypocrite. I’ll still use aggregators and booking services as search engines – those user reviews are too handy to give up.

Updated: August 8, 2019 07:11 PM