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Why Do Hotels Give Me a Bad Room When I Book Through The Best Travel Sites?

Bruce Claver | Insightful Service | March 12, 2023



Summary: This week's post questions a conspiracy theory that front desk agents everywhere want to give you their most undesirable room. Truth or fiction? Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction...

 

Matt R. is an amateur road warrior, meaning he travels a few times a month to major cities across the U.S. He books his rooms through the best travel sites and seems to think that front desk agents purposely target him by assigning him the worst guest rooms. I asked him why he thinks that all the hotels in the U.S. have conspired to make him miserable. "It just seems that no matter which hotel travel site I use, I keep getting these rooms that face the dumpsters or a wall or my room is right next to the ice machines or by the elevators where people chit-chat as they wait for the loud ding of an arriving elevator. In older hotels, I swear my rooms are converted storage closets that can barely fit three people standing in a vertical position."


Ok, Matt, your conspiracy theory is a bit extreme but there may be some truth to it. Do hotels tend to give up their undesirable rooms to third-party travel website guests? The answer to the question will probably surprise you. Let's check it out.


 


How it Works


First understand that the best hotel booking sites like Priceline.com Booking.com, Kayak.com, hotels.com, etc, compete for not only your business but the business of the hotels they market on their sites. The rates you see have been negotiated with the hotels. To put it simply, the hotel dictates the price of each room and how many rooms at any particular price they are willing to sell. The hotel booking sites make a commission on each sale.



A Love-Hate Relationship


Hotel managers have a love-hate relationship with third-party travel sites ("TPTS"). While the sites help to fill the hotels when demand for rooms is projected to be low, they are an undesired friend when demand suddenly picks up and demand becomes high. That's because hotels want to maximize their room rates and third-party sites, with their deeply discounted rates, are a thorn in the side of revenue managers whose job is to maximize room revenue. Generally, the hotels cannot contractually cut off a TPTS because they have already committed to giving them a certain number of rooms at certain rates. These sites can reach many more consumers than each individual hotel brand can ever reach on its own. It works no differently than grocery stores that carry multiple brands of the same product. You wouldn't shop at a Kraft Foods store when you can shop at a grocery store that carries multiple brand varieties of pasta, sides, and desserts. So hotel managers have to abide by certain contractual arrangements that allow the third-party sites to book rooms until their allotment of rooms is sold out, even when the hotel's forecasting has changed to a projected high occupancy. After all, the TPTS want to make money too so their goal is to sell out their entire allotment.



Where is Your Loyalty?

Hotel Brand or THIRD PARY TRAVEL SITE?


The guests who book through a TPTS tend not to be loyalists to that hotel brand. Generally speaking, a TPTS is used by those who travel rarely or who value price over brand loyalty. Hotel companies such as Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, etc would prefer you to be loyal to their brand and stay at their family of brand hotels. Loyalty points are generally only available to those who book direct rather than through a TPTS. Third-party sites tend to have the lowest rates due to both the access they have to travelers and because of the volume of room bookings they contribute. The only thing a hotel can do to earn your business after you have booked through a TPTS is to offer you membership into their loyalty program and provide beneficial future incentives with that program that would outweigh the price value associated with booking through a TPTS in the future.



Your Loyalty = Your Room Assignment


Some hotels do not charge based on views since it can be a subjective decision as to what constitutes a view and will only guarantee a run-of-the-house room meaning, they will give you whatever room type and bed type they want and that tends to be the smallest or least desirable rooms. They prefer to give the nicer rooms to the guests who are either loyalists or, paying a much higher rate. This is the disadvantage of booking through a TPTS. However, when occupancy is low and the hotel is slow, the hotel may assign a nicer room and, it is in their best interest to do so for a couple of reasons. First, assigning an upgraded room to a TPTS reservation is an opportunity for the front desk agent to tell the third-party reservation guest that these upgraded rooms are generally given to those guests who book directly with the hotel and, points are awarded for doing so which has its own set of values. This opportunity is the perfect sales pitch to convince a guest to join the loyalty program and book direct. Second, nobody wants a complaining guest and there is no need to assign guests to known undesirable rooms when nicer rooms are available and occupancy is low. Besides, the hotel wants positive reviews posted on online review sites, and it's in everyone's best interest to get it right the first time by minimizing complaints by ensuring the guest has a positive experience from the start.

why do I get a bad room if I check in early?


When a hotel is projecting a sellout and they have some rooms that guests tend to complain about, it is in their best interest to check the first check-in guests into them to mitigate complaints. If you show up at 10 am to check in and check-in time is not until 3 pm, the desk agent can leverage the situation by telling you that all rooms are still dirty and because check-in is at 3 pm, you'll have to come back however, s/he may try to entice you by offering an undesirable room that is available at that moment. Many guests will jump at the opportunity to get into their room hours prior to check-in time and take the offer. But there is a bigger incentive to hand out keys to the most undesirable rooms first.

If you check in early and immediately complain about the room, the front desk still has an open inventory of rooms to move you to. At 9 pm, the opportunity for a room change is more difficult since most people have checked in already. It is strategically better to give out all the undesirable rooms first when they still have the opportunity to resolve a complaint with a positive outcome. The later the day gets, the more guests check-in and the more difficult it gets to resolve complaints, and if a complaint cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of the guest, poor reviews and lost business results. Repeat business falls, especially with the loyalists who the hotel never wants to upset. If a hotel is projecting a sold-out night, strategically, it is best to give out the worst rooms at the beginning of the day because that allows management to better mitigate the situation and keep all guests happy.

Eventually and usually, the front desk will get enough takers...that is, guests who don't care about views or ice machines and will take the inferior room without hesitation or complaint. Overall, however, there are a number of reasons that you can be assigned an undesirable room but know this, you're not entirely crazy to believe that you're being targeted.

 

Thanks to Matt R. for submitting this week's question to Insightful Service. Matt was been compensated with my unwavering gratitude. and seeing his first name mentioned.


 

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