I would like to get your opinion on how to get the best hotel prices. It appears that some times you get reduced rates when dealing with third parties like hotel.com.
You should give this thread a quick read...it's related to your question
It's the luck of the draw, research your a** off and compare as many sites as possible. And if you see a great rate somewhere, contact the hotel directly and get them to match or beat it.
I have gone to Europe 13 of the last 14 years and most of the time we book directly with hotels mentioned in RS guide books. Some times we do return to a place we found somewhere else but really enjoyed. I have only had one bad experience booking direct to one of RS hotels and that was this year when booking an early stay before the start of a RS Bulgaria at the tours first hotel. I asked for a high floor and quiet room months ahead of time. When we arrived to check in we were told we were on the second floor of a hotel with lots of higher floors. When reminding them of our reservation request, we were told that the "fine print" says that they can not guarantee requests. We went to our room and later that day found out that our room was directly over a ballroom that had a wedding reception going on all afternoon and late into the night. When complaining to the front desk, I was told that the hotel was sold out and that I could not be moved. Next time, same situation with another wedding reception. Needless to say, even with ear plugs we got little or not sleep. When asking to speak to the manager the next morning, the front desk clerk rung her up on the telephone and she told me she was too busy to come out and talk to me. We ended up being stuck in that same room for two nights once the tour started. After returning home, I reported on my experiences to every web site on the internet as well as sending my report to the RS folks. I do hope that others avoid this hotel if possible. Hotel name provided via PM.
I have had great luck booking directly with the hotel. They have always matched any other price that I have found, and will sometimes even beat the price of a booking agency. I prefer to have personal contact with the hotel in case any issues would happen to arise with either the reservation, accommodations or services during our stay. We find it easier to deal directly with the hotel rather than a third party. This method has also worked well for us when we have had specific requests for an upcoming stay.
I sometimes find hotel rates on agency websites that are less than quoted by the hotel itself (the so-called "rack rate".) So shop around. Also compare airline plus hotel packages. Values there depend very much on your own requirements.
"I sometimes find hotel rates on agency websites that are less than quoted by the hotel itself (the so-called "rack rate".)"
Possibly true when dealing with big hotels (which have "rack rates"), but not what I have found for smaller places, at least in Germany. I almost never find "agency websites" to be lower than the hotel prices (I think they try contractually to prevent the hotels from undercutting them on rates), but I often find package deals on the hotel's own website that are not offered on the agency site and are less expensive for the hotel part than the agency rates. For instance, I recently stayed in a place in the Black Forest that only offered on their website a package deal including spa admission. Subtracting the cost of the spa admission from the package price, the room itself was 20% less than what the booking agency was offering. I have also found hotels that only offered their most expensive rooms on the booking agencies website. Rooms that were less expensive, sometimes because they didn't have a balcony, were not available on the booking agency site.
But, more importantly, there are usually more places in a town, sometimes two to three times as many places, than are shown on a booking agency's site. These places tend to be less expensive. I've saved thousand of euro over the years by finding accommodations on town websites and booking directly with them.