We've found some agriturismos in the Sienna area, but they more and more seem to require a 30% non-refundable fee. Any comments or complaints? I assume this is to offset any last-minute cancellations (or to encourage more people to follow through with their plans).
I just checked 6 random agriturismos near Siena on Trip Advisor, and all can be booked through Booking.com, which requires no deposit. We've used Booking.com a lot recently, with no problems at all. It's quick and easy to book, and easy to cancel or change should the need arise. Booking.com does charge a fee to the merchant, but despite this I have sometimes been able to book through Booking.com for less than booking through the hotel/agriturismo's website.
I think you're spot on. They can't afford to have folks cancel last minute when booking through them directly so they want you to have skin in the game (it works well for discouraging cancellations). Booking.com has more flexibility because they are able to drive higher volume to these places (and charge them fees)and have the scale of customers that they can afford to provide tacit insurance in case of cancellations. So, in other words, booking.com is able to assume the risk comfortably, but a mom and pop dealing with you directly cannot. The corollary to that is, in theory, a direct booking plus money down, should get you a better rate (can you negotiate that with the agriturismo place? they either can give you a lower rate or pay their middleman and lose money to two parties)
Thank you for your replies. We've been going through the individual agriturismos in order to get the best rates, not thinking that whether we pay the middleman (booking.com) or the 30% up-front fee, we'll be committing money up-front. We have found a place near Pienza that does not charge the up-front 30%, which sounds wonderful. Will report after we're there. It had 67 reviews on agriturismos.it, and all were "5 thumbs up"!
Mary, just to clarify - you wouldn't necessarily be prepaying booking.com anything directly UNLESS they have an agreement with a hotel to prepay a certain percentage (or the whole amount) upfront. But the hotels pay booking.com for their service so, in the end, all customers absorb small amounts of that "middleman" fee. However, you can get better deal with booking.com oftentimes vs. a hotel's own website..it's worth checking out whether it's cheaper and/or you need to pre-pay some amount.