Here’s What Happens To You When You Don’t “Book Direct”

Hotels promote booking through their websites instead of online travel agencies in a variety of ways. One is the new model of the ‘member discount for booking direct’ to convince you that they have the lowest prices on their own websites.

Nonetheless, that often still isn’t true and I find lower prices through online travel agency websites all the time.

You’re supposed to be able to get a hotel chain to match the price through their best rate gaurantees. But those are so riddled with terms and outs that more often than not those guarantees are meaningless.

I frequently find lower prices through online travel agency sites when prices in a city are high, and hotels are selling out. They may no longer have base rooms available through their website, but those rooms are still being sold via third parties.

For a stay last month I found the Park Hyatt DC at over $700 on Hyatt’s website, but around $300 at That’s because Prestigia was selling standard rooms, and Hyatt showed they were out of those rooms. I couldn’t use a Best Rate Guarantee because I couldn’t book the same room through Hyatt that I could through the third party site. I didn’t wind up staying there (I didn’t actually want to spend $300 a night).

This week I needed to be in DC for two nights and hotels were priced super high. Full service hotels in Arlington were running over $400 per night.

The Marriott Key Bridge was sold out of standard rooms — but had two nights for less than $400 total inclusive of tax. I booked with, and of course with different room types I couldn’t do a Look No Further Guarantee claim.

There’s another way hotels encourage you to book direct. And that’s that in a sell out condition, what kind of room do you think they’re going to assign to a cheap OTA booking?

I knew walking in that I wasn’t in one of the better-maintained rooms on property.

Here were my sheets:

And this was my shower:

I also didn’t have a premium view:

First world problems, to be sure. My point is that being out in the back of the property the room seemed to be ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and of course it’s the view you give someone at the bottom of the rung for room assignment. At least I don’t mind Marriott’s toiletries.

The room was fine enough… except for the tissue stuffed into the peep hole in the door.

I left the tissue there throughout my stay wondering if housekeeping would do anything about it. They did not.

At least I had the opportunity to tip housekeeping.

Then again, I was grateful to the previous guest who (I assumed) put the tissue into the peephole. There wasn’t anything to cover the super wide peephole in the door, and this was a Marriott afterall.

“Stop clicking around” … or else.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] You don’t get hotel elite status credit or benefits and don’t earn points. You’re not generally saving money on the hotel and in a sense it costs you more too – since you’re giving up earning points with the hotel loyalty program. You’re also not supposed to get elite benefits like upgrades, and the stay isn’t supposed to count towards earning status either. (You may also be assigned to a lesser room, booking the Marriott Key Bridge across from D.C. through a third party used to mean getting a dilapidated motel-style room at the back of the property.) […]


  1. In my albeit not lengthy experience, I have gotten BRGs/LNFs filed and approved on room types not offered by booking directly with the very reasoning of “it’s not available directly.” Hyatt has really demolished their BRG and instructed their agents to be jerks, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Marriott LNF team did something nice for you. You didn’t try, though.

  2. Gary,

    What are you limits on hotel prices? How much would you pay for a personal stay? What is the most expensive room you paid for with your cash (including cash+point or points+upgrade, etc)?

    I see you mentioned that you wouldn’t pay $300 for PH, but I assume this is a business-related stay. And how much cash you’re willing to spend for your family vacation?

    I guess, an overwater villa at Hadahaa would be somewhere among the top 5 in your list?

  3. We stayed there, not a bad hotel.”wi-fi worked, restaurant on site,”short walk to the sights.,”nice staff.

    ‘Enjoyed the Hop on and Off,,

    The room is for sleeping,], turn left and walk over to Georgetown..

    Give it more stars than City Center Sheraton..”where the front desk does not answer the phone, and the Internet did not work..,

  4. @Andrew I wasn’t going to pay $300 for the Park Hyatt since I’d need to ask for a lower reimbursement on that stay.

    I once paid $550 for a hotel night – at the Intercontinental Boston when the city was basically sold out, but I applied a Buy One Get One coupon for the next night free so the effective rate was only half that.

    I’ve managed some inexpensive buy ups in Maldives, e.g. by buying up after being upgraded to a pool villa so the amount is less. Leaving upgrade fees aside, on a personal stay I’ve never paid $300+ in cash though certainly paid that much on business stays [I’m pretty sure the most was $425 for a conference].

  5. It appears that the Marriott inspectors missed that room in their recent sweeps. I certainly never would’ve stayed there with the peephole and the stains

  6. “Then again, I was grateful to the previous guest who (I assumed) put the tissue into the peephole. There wasn’t anything to cover the super wide peephole in the door, and this was a Marriott after all.”

    You beat me to it. Well done.

  7. I don’t usually stay at chains, so I don’t have any comments on the experience above – but I did want to comment on non-chain bookings via booking sites (particularly I stay around 6-10 nights per month in various cities around Australia.

    It is true that some properties treat third party bookings with less respect than bookings done directly with the property, however I’ve taken to explaining why I booked via a booking engine on check in. This makes an enormous difference.

    Reasons I use include ‘better pricing online’ (I’ve then been offered a discount code to use for future bookings), and the ability to have all my stays summarised in the one spot to ease expense claims. In many cases once I’ve explained things, the hotel/apartment staffer checking me in will say ‘oh, well just a second let me find you a nicer room’ or ‘we have some larger rooms available would you like a free upgrade’.

    So, for me, it pays to start up a conversation and engage with the hotel – it might be policy to put bookings from third parties in the low floor no view next door to the lift/storage/car park rooms, but hotel staff will try to make you happy if you ask nicely.

  8. Myth that you will automatically get a worse room if using an OTA. There are only so many “bad” rooms in a hotel. Large hotels will sell more rooms using an OTA that they have of these “bad” rooms.

    OTOH, you have to be prepared to not get the “best” of rooms either.

  9. Sheesh, what was going on here last week that had hotel rooms at $400/night? If there were any big events in town, I was completely oblivious to them as usual.

    I go by the Key Bridge Marriott daily, have for years, and have always wondered who they stick in that little low-rise afterthought addition out back that looks like a Motel 6. Guess now I know.

  10. I had a similar experience with the Sheraton Mexico City last weekend – the BRG would have not been available and the cheapest room booked through Expedia was a dump.

    SPG gave me 3k points as a goodwill which is fair considering the $100 room rate. I’m sure Marriott Rewards will be happy to compensate with 20k points?!

  11. I filled out the post-stay survey and got this note:

    “As we pride ourselves on delivering a memorable hotel experience during your travels, we have unfortunately fallen short of our goal during your recent stay. Please accept our sincere apology for the maintenance and cleanliness issues in your room. I also would like to extend my apologies for not being able to provide you the folio as you checked out, I have e-mailed you your folio on the e-mail address you have provided us. And, rest assured, we have shared your feedback with the appropriate hotel team to ensure that this was an isolated issue that is corrected moving forward.

    Upholding our commitment to provide a memorable experience with exceptional service, we hope to have an opportunity to better your experience with us whenever your travels bring you back to Arlington. ”

    I replied sharing this post with photos, and then got the following response:

    “Thank you. Will pass them on to the appropriate department heads.”

    In other words, they couldn’t care less.

  12. I’ll say this. In 25 years of personal travel, I’ve been walked six times. Each time, I’ve been booked via a OTA (usually corporate Expedia). Coincidence? I think not.

  13. It’s all bad but the worst thing about this story is the sheets….Ewww! Marriott should be ashamed; I’m dreading the merger more than ever. Long live SPG!

  14. That is one of the hotels that I will NEVER stay at. What you are showing as a “one off room” is actually the norm……

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