Updated: Jun 19, 2020
It's nice when you are given a title isn't it.
It's one of the little tricks that booking.com use to make their users feel special. If you feel special then you're more likely to use them in the future. The 'Genius' advantages are nothing more we (and any B&B) give any guest. We used this site once* and were told that we were now Genius Bookers (and therefore eligible to 'secret promotions')
Let me break down a couple of sneaky tricks that booking.com (and other OTAs -Online Travel Agents) use to trick you into booking with them.
1. Limited Availability
See the red font above? (deliberately used a red font to make it stand out)
It seems that this is our last room ... hurry, hurry, hurry ... someone else might book it while we are looking around!
Each of our rooms has a unique name, therefore we've only got one of EACH room available. The dates I put in for the screenshot above** we actually have all four rooms available. Booking.con (that's not a typo) will always, for any accommodation listing, put the rooms from the cheapest upwards. So if a property has two 'compact doubles' then it will read "Only 2 rooms left on our site!" ... upon clicking you'll see more options.
Another trick into limited availability, you can see below "Not usually available - you're in luck!"
This is because the majority of our bookings come directly from our website, as most guests check and see that they'll save considerable ££ if they book on our site. Hence, if a room is booked on our site, then it's not available on an OTA site.
2. We Price Match
Okay, if you find a room on Expedia or Laterooms for cheaper than it is listed on booking.con then the B&B/Hotel will face a penalty in the rankings. Your property on page 2 will suddenly be found on page 17 (and vice versa if you were to list cheaper on booking.con rather than the other two).
Therefore, the chance that a B&B/Hotel will vary their prices is rare on an OTA.
However, if you go onto our website you will automatically find that our rates are 10% than ANYWHERE else online (that's a guarantee as I'm the one that sets the prices). You may think, great, I'll book with booking.con and then claim back the 10%. Sorry. Not going to work. Why?
As you can see on the third bullet point of "When can you not make a claim?" if the other price is a special promotion or deal then they won't match the price.
3. Free Cancellations
This has been said to us many times, "... we like booking.con because of their free cancellation policy."
IT IS NOT BOOKING.CON's cancellation policy. It is OURS.
When ANY accommodation provider lists their property on Booking.con you are asked to set the cancellation policy yourself. It's ours, not theirs.
You are NOT 'locking in a great price'. You are making a RESERVATION.
In fact, as bookings made through OTAs are more likely to cancel than direct bookings from a direct website, you may find that the cancellation policy is BETTER for a guest on a B&Bs website than it is on an OTA site.
4. Paid Advertising
Booking.con pay the likes of Google and Bing MILLIONS of pounds a year to 'hijack' the name of any accommodation provider so that their ad will come before any official website link. You can read about the practice here.
5. The pressure to boost your rankings.
OTAs are constantly bombarding you to lower your daily rates to boost your rank on their sites. Basically, if you offer them a discounted rate then you'll appear higher up on their search pages. Sounds like a win:win doesn't it?
If a B&B owner wanted to get a visibility boost in the rankings in July then they've got to give a minimum discount of 15% ON TOP of the commission that they are already paying the OTA. What this means is that owners may start cutting corners (lower quality produce, cheaper in room facilities etc ...) to fill rooms. Something that we'd never do.
So when SHOULD I use an online travel agent site?
OTA websites can be very useful for looking at a lot of properties in a relatively short space of time. We use them to search for a B&B when we go away. Once we find a B&B that we like, we'll go to their website or simply call them up.
Another thing is that OTA review scores are "generally" accurate as they have been given by guests that have genuinely stayed at the property. Unfortunately, TripAdvisor and Google can be abused by anyone. We've seen it several times that people have posted low scores/reviews simply because they came across badly on a TV show or the owners have been misquoted out of context in a newspaper article.
Why so I add "generally"? ... because most accommodation providers have had guests that have been, shall I say, ... difficult to please ... When we started out, we were given a low score by a guest who had booked one room but wanted a free upgrade into a bigger room. We couldn't make the request as the upgraded room had ALREADY been booked. Alas, the OTAs will let these reviews stand.
Okay, I hope that shares some light onto OTA websites and some of their misleading practises. Who knows, maybe they'll be banned in more countries, just like they are in Turkey.
Thanks for taking the time to read my little rant and thoughts,
* Yes, we used booking.con once. Why? Because we fell for all the tricks too. "Look, only one room left! ... We can cancel for free later ... It's the best price guaranteed"
Now we know how and when to use an OTA site and have literally saved hundreds of pounds by not using them to book our staycations.
** Screenshot on PC: Press 'Print Scrn' (above the arrow keys), open Paint, Ctrl+V, and crop.
** Screenshot on Mac: Press 'Shift-Command-4' and drag over the area you want. It's automatically saved on your desktop