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Booking.com

I have always been a huge proponent of booking.com. You might even think I work for them, I am such a promoter (I don't work there). I hardly ever look at hotel listings in guidebooks any more, I have found this site so useful. They are usually very transparent about the terms, calling out when a booking is nonrefundable in search results, or when "no prepayment is needed-pay at property." Recently I became aware that there is another category, free cancellation but you pay in advance. The site is not nearly so transparent about this nonstandard (for this site) set of terms. And the property is entitled to set its terms, of course. I am not suggesting this is a "scam" or any such thing, just buyer beware if you don't like to prepay. My bad, if I had dug for it I could have found it but I am not used to having to dig for precise terms on this site. Usually it's very explicit but here the lack of "no prepayment needed" should have been a warning.

I am not a big fan of "pay in advance" which is one reason why I have always used booking.com. You lose leverage over the property should things turn out to be substandard. For other things like a cruise or Autoeurope, I go along with it but they are transparent about it and that's a conscious choice. I realize other booking sites use prepayment as their default setting. I can always cancel but I made plans around this booking so I'll probably just consider it a lesson learned.

Moral of the story, don't assume if it's not flagged as nonrefundable that you can pay at the property unless you see that explicitly called out on booking.com.

Posted by
4685 posts

I agree - I have used Booking.com for years and still do, but I have noticed an increase in "pay in advance" options which I don't like, either. Every property has different terms and cancellation policies, and you have to each each one's carefully! Some properties offer multiple cancellation options. Some that are prepaid aren't necessarily a lot cheaper, either.

Posted by
11677 posts

You can pretty much assume the low price they display with the initial search list is prepaid and non-refundable. When you go to “select my room” it will usually display a chart with two prices for each room type. Just be careful you choose the correct one.

I have not seen and “prepay but free cancellation” offers at all. Or are you referring to a one-night deposit taken on a longer stay?

Posted by
4938 posts

What is not so transparent is that hotels pay to have their properties listed first (sponsored) on the website (and most other similar sites), and that it is not unbiased in promoting some hotels over others.

Posted by
1293 posts

What is not so transparent is that hotels pay to have their properties
listed first (sponsored) on the website (and most other similar
sites), and that it is not unbiased in promoting some hotels over
others.

So sort of like a newspaper, where you pay for placement of your ad, and it cost more to be in the good section? Or the way the entire internet ad ecosystem works? Except with independent, confirmed traveler ratings prominently displayed so you can see what others think too. And the ability to instantly filter the way you want - by price, by user review, by location, by amenity.

Man, I sure miss "the good ole days" when my only option was to read a guidebook, and half the options were some fleabag hotel or restaurant who had slipped a couple crisp benjamins to the guide writer for "consideration," then I read "a quaint, centrally-located, family-run 3-star hotel with charming views" and I show up and think, what the...?

Posted by
195 posts

Having been satisfied with booking.com before, I booked--in November-- a fairly complicated April-May 2019 trip (Paris-Lviv-Tarnow-Cracow-Eger-Budapest-Vienna-Halstatt-Salzburg-Varenna-Milan) entirely through booking.com. Every place had no charge until a cancellation date about 2 weeks before arrival, except the one in Milan (which asked for a 100 euro deposit, which it said was fully refundable until about 2 weeks before arrival). They were all highly rated (9.5 or higher) places, very well located, and (with the exception of Varenna, where the significant other more or less insisted on a splurge) appeared to be reasonably priced. Of course, things do get a bit more expensive as you head west.

I have also had good experiences in places recommended by Rick Steves (with the notable exception of Max's in Piran, who, after confirming the day before, stood us up!), and with AirBnB (including a place in Mostar for $30 a night that claimed to have "a million dollar view" of the Old Bridge--and delivered!).

Posted by
1878 posts

That's just the point, they don't call out "prepayment required," you are supposed to understand that when it does not say "prepayment not required," that means that it is indeed required. I had never encountered this in 22 bookings on the site, in fact I have used it so much they label me a "genius" member. "Prepayment not required" is actually a search option but it's never come up before so I have not used this in the past.

Actually doing test searches I do see a disparity between the number of listings with "free cancellation" and "no prepayment," so apparently it is becoming more of a thing on this site. They still should make it more transparent but now I know to search for it, fair enough. Paying three months in advance is not ideal but most places in Berkeley are either of questionable quality or well over $200 per night so I'll probably stick with it. So now I know to search on booking.com for both "free cancellation" and "no prepayment". And so do you!

Like I said my bad, live and learn, I can always cancel. (Would also have to cancel part of my reunion activities though). Of course they say the property might charge you applicable taxes for a canceled booking--while also saying zero cost to cancel and free cancellation. I wonder what taxes the state/city would apply for a stay not completed? I am going to guess none. If you call on the phone and make a booking, later cancel, would a hotel charge you for the tax on the stay that you did not complete? Pretty sure my credit card company would work with me on challenging any taxes charged on a non-stay.

So yeah my point was to complain a bit but also to give the community a heads up.

Posted by
638 posts

I've used booking.com for years and am extremely satisfied with them. But yes, you do need to read the fine print - and probably even more so now than a few years ago because they are including more and more different types of properties. It seems like it used to be mostly hotels (some large, some small, but basically 'standard' hotel type properties) whereas now there are more "airb&b" type places, apartments, etc. I think it is still easier to book with booking.com even if it's a place that requires prepayment, because it's booking.com who is going to refund you in the case of a cancellation and they are simpler to deal with than an individual property.

I booked a trip for this summer to Croatia and a lot of the places are small (1-3 room) and don't take credit cards. Booking.com now has a way that you can still pay by credit card by paying through booking.com, rather than the property. I'm sure this is a great service for the property owner, but it's convenient for me as well as I don't want to have to carry around that much cash. But you do have to read the fine print to figure out when exactly they will be taking the payment and when the 'free cancellation' ends, etc. In some cases they are gong to take the payment two weeks before the stay, even though you can still cancel till one week before. I guess in that circumstance if you canceled in that week period they'd refund you.

Posted by
3352 posts

I use Booking.com quite a bit but not exclusively. I’ve reserved rooms with free cancellation where the price showed up on my credit card charges after I booked. But, I’ve cancelled some of those and always received the refund right away.

My itineraries always have a column where I mark those already paid - never had any issues at the hotels or B&B’s.

Per the comment about some listings showing on the top of the search list - they show up during the default “Our Top picks”. Just select a filter, such as by “Top Reviewed” or by “Price” to see the sorting without their promo paid picks on top.

Posted by
2649 posts

There was a comment above about not liking to prepay as you have no recourse if the property is sub par. Have you read booking.com's terms or reference to see whether they hold the money, or the property? Perhaps they are going the AirBnB model of not paying the property until 24 hours after checkin so that you actually do have a day to reconcile the problem. That has been my comfort and one of the reasons I book via Airbnb. Great apartments and no money transfers to people I don't know.
If they have changed options, it might be covered in updated TORs or rules and regs. Though I recognize the property sets certain rules.

Posted by
17642 posts

For about 150 nights in Germany, I have booked a few places that were also listed on one or more of the booking websites, but I have always found them on Google Maps or on the listing on the town TI website. My experience has been that the town website always has 2 to 3 times the number of places vs a booking website and the places shown on booking websites tend to be the more expensive properties (not surprising since they have to pay a commission of around 15% to the booking website). Of the booking websites, I have usually found Booking.com to have the most selection after the TI.

Case in point is a small town on the Main river where I stayed a year ago.

For this town, Hotels.com has the lowest average price for the booking websites for the properties they show, but they only show 3. HRS.com has the next lowest average price and shows 6 properties. Booking.com is slightly higher (average price) and shows 7 properties. Booking also show a place listed on Airb&b and a hostel. Except for those two and one Hotel's listing, all the places listed on the booking websites are over $100 a night.

The town TI website shows 27 properties, of which 5 are from the 7 listed by Booking, 6 are smaller hotel types for less than $100 a night, 2 are the B&B and hostel (for less than Booking's price), 2 are Privalzimmer, and 12 are Ferienwohnungen (apts). Four of the 5 places listed on the TI website and also on one or more booking website are less on the TI website.

So, of the booking websites, I think Booking is the best, but if you want a large selection of places, not just the most expensive places, use the TI website.

Posted by
6138 posts

I noticed the same trend on hotels.com, and I think it may be an indication of the leverage changing between the contract terms and expectations between hotels and the third-party platform, or hotels and guests, or both. Hotels seem to be in a stronger position to be able to extract the cost upfront while still allowing an "exit" in the form of a refund up to a certain date. I was really caught off guard when I booked a room recently and it clearly said it was refundable, but the platform was quite non-transparent on the "the hotel has taken your payment in full" part (this was on hotels.com, which I think is inferior to booking.com in many ways). I only realized that I essentially paid upfront AFTER I got my confirmation (I thought I was just "holding the room" with my card, not actually paying in full). But, in their defense, they honored the refundability clause and my money was credited back very quickly (within 3 days or so).

I have to admit that it's a great strategy because, once you've paid in full, you are less likely to cancel (even if you technically can, and it's easy to do). You do feel more "committed", for lack of better words. Hotels are probably getting fed up with last minute cancellations or people double booking multiple rooms on the same date, only to cancel all but one. I could see their point. I don't like paying ahead either, but it's sort of a see-saw (the hotels, like airlines, would rather get their money upfront, and I would rather pay as late as possible). Each party wants to have more leverage than the other.

Posted by
1878 posts

Not to beat a dead horse, but I finally heard back from booking.com after a week and they assured me that the way they present search results/listings is based upon years of feedback. Apparently said feedback suggests that customers prefer that booking.com obfuscate the terms of booking. Good to know. They did hold out hope that my countervailing viewpoint that transparency is a good thing might someday be incorporated into the site with respect to prepayment requirements. So that was nice.

In the mean time I did figure out for myself that you can filter results by "no prepayment required". Unfortunately in looking at listings for Venice, Italy some of the search results of such a filtered query do not exhibit the "pay at the property, no prepayment required" designation. Not sure what to think about that. I plan to both use the filtering capability and look for the "no prepayment" tag, so problem solved going forward.

Posted by
8561 posts

If you aren't happy with the way Booking.com is doing things, why not just book directly with the hotel?

Posted by
1510 posts

I’ve used booking.com a LOT in the past year. I do like that the majority of reservations are visible in one place. But I do find places to stay using other sources (RS, other guide books, and going direct, if there is a benefit). So TripIt keeps track of everything in one place.

Sometimes a property offers the booking.com low non refundable rate, but with a cancellation option and no prepayment.

Since we travel with a dog, even if booking.com says a dog is (or is not) allowed, I email the property to confirm and ask if there is a pet fee for our well behaved dog. But sometimes there is no way to contact property with books.com unless you make reservation first, We’ve come across places that don’t allow dogs (but booking says they do) and properties that say no dogs, but are willing to make an exception when I contact property directly.

One other thing I like about booking, is that I can continue to look for alternatives at a lower price, (assuming original is cancelable) and when I book new reservation, booking.com asks if I want to cancel previous reservation for same nights. For our upcoming 2 night visit to Florence next month, started with B&B for $344 for stay, then found hotel for $268; and early this week found studio apartment for $202 (non cancelable, since plans are set in stone).

Posted by
16729 posts

I do some of my bookings direct and some through booking.com. I rarely need to re-visit a reservation I've made, but I've just needed to cancel three. It was very easy to cancel the two booking.com reservations. The other cancellation went fine, too, but I was a bit nervous about it, and I had to write an email.

Posted by
1477 posts

Interestingly, Frank II, I recently had an experience that was a first: I went to the hotel's website, clicked to book, and Booking.com's listing for that hotel came up. The only way you can book online with that small property is through Booking.com.

Posted by
8561 posts

Yes, Janet, I've had that happen. But it is rare.

I use Tripit to keep all my reservations in one place...hotels,air, trains, cars, sightseeing tickets, etc.

Posted by
638 posts

I've had the same experience as Janet. At more than one small property we got talking to the owner who said they now just let booking.com handle all their reservations, that it's worth the money to not have to worry about maintaining their own website reservation system and that they are 'full' much more of the time now that they are on booking.con so it more than makes up for the fee. So it's a fallacy that hotels would always rather you book directly with them.

Posted by
131 posts

I, too, am a big fan of booking.com. Years ago a hotel proprietor in Miami recommended booking.com. He told me they were the best and the cheapest. I have found that to be true.

There have been a few exceptions when I stayed at a Y in the United States. I got a better deal booking directly.

I do a lot of research on many sites before a trip and continue to find booking.com the best.

Posted by
1500 posts

I had the same situation as VFTravels. I actually decided to cancel because I just didn't think I should have to pay a year in advance for a hotel room when there's nothing special going on.