Coming at you hard and fast with a cheeky one today – I’m about to hit you with some insider’s tips into how to manipulate your 3rd party accommodation booking website if something isn’t working out for you.

Using a 3rd party site (like Expedia, Air BnB, rather than booking directly with a hotel has its pros and cons. For example, they can chase up any incorrect charges so you don’t have to. If you’re in a pickle and your small motel in the outback of Australia has overbooked you,  they will do the work in finding you somewhere to stay and compensate you for the trouble – rather than leaving you stranded to fend for yourself. On the other hand, both you and your hotel are bound by an additional set of policies – as the website needs to change your reservation if you make it with them, it can be a bit of a rigmarole getting the hotel to agree to change something with you, and then to get the hotel to agree with a representative from the website. But overall, 3rd party sites are fantastic at cataloguing the huge range of accommodation options out there, and guaranteeing you the cheapest price.

Having spent a year working behind the scenes oft the industry as a representative for a large accommodation booking website, these are a few of the workarounds I picked up on while working various cases – and have since tried myself. Quick disclaimer: these methods are all some combination of the following –

  1. Not 100% guaranteed to work
  2. All from my own experience working at this one particular booking site (all of the accommodation websites tend to have incredibly similar practices and policies, but I cannot guarantee they are exactly the same as the one I worked at).
  3. In a few cases, bordering on morally questionable – so employ at your own risk!

So without further ado:

  1. If the hotel will not allow cancellation outside of your policy…

…Ask to change the dates.

Situation: you’ve made a non-refundable booking, or you need to cancel after the free cancellation period has ended – and the hotel will not make an exception to your policy, regardless of your circumstances. Most of the time, the hotel doesn’t want to cancel free of charge last minute, as they lose money which was otherwise guaranteed. BUT if they allow the website to change the dates they are technically not losing money, as you are theoretically staying and paying some other time.

  • If you booked a General policy but you’re too late to cancel for free, change the dates to at least a month away (or any time where you can cancel for free again. E.g. if your current policy says you can cancel free of charge up until 7 days before arrival, change the arrival date to OVER 7 days away). Then when you have your booking modified with your new dates, cancel INSIDE the new free of charge cancellation dates.
  • If you booked a Non-Refundable policy (a little harder to work with), change the dates to at least 6 months, if not further in the future. After about 2-4 weeks when they’ve forgotten about you, call again and ask to make an exception to your policy and cancel for free. Usually if it’s super far in advance, they’ll be lenient about it. Hotels only freak out if it’s guaranteed money they see as losing. If you cancel 6 months or more in advance, it is quite likely that they will re-sell your room to someone else, thus guaranteeing that money.

This WON’T work if the hotel specifies you can change the dates only once. 99% of the time if you don’t bring it up, they won’t specify this and you’re golden.

  1. If you have your heart set on staying at a certain hotel, but a website says it is sold out on your dates…

…Check other booking sites, or contact the hotel directly to make a booking.

These websites work as follows: Hotel A has 80 rooms to sell on one night. They will give 20 to Expedia to sell, 20 to to sell, 20 to Air BnB to sell, and they will keep 20 rooms for direct bookings or walk ins. So if you search ‘Hotel A’ on Expedia and it says they’re sold out – it means Expedia has sold out of their 20 rooms, not necessarily that the entire collective itinerary is sold out. There is a good chance that, Air BnB and Hotel A will all still have rooms to sell. Don’t be afraid to shop the competition.

This is LESS LIKELY to work if you want to stay at a small boutique hotel with only 20 rooms total- usually they sync everything, and they really are sold out. But if it’s a large hotel like a Hilton – it’s definitely worth checking.

  1. If you find the price cheaper online somewhere else…

…Take a screenshot and contact the customer service team of your booking site.

3rd party sites largely rely on loyal users who keep coming back, and they will go to great lengths to keep those users. Pretty much every major site has some sort of best price guarantee, or disclaimer that they will price match if you find a lower price. If you do find your accommodation cheaper somewhere else (it should be the same hotel, dates, policies and room type), screenshot it, take the link down and ask your favourite website to match it. If it’s valid, they will either change your price immediately, or compensate you the difference after your stay. This is especially good if you booked a non-refundable, pre-paid booking: E.g. if you booked the Hotel A for $70 a night, pre-paid, then later see the same pre-paid room for $60 a night – you can’t cancel for free (according to your policy) to get the cheaper price. But if you screenshot, and send this to your customer service team, you are usually due compensation (even if you send it after your stay).

This almost ALWAYS works (almost because it depends on your website policy). I usually double check the price of whatever I’ve booked one month, and then again one week before my stay on a couple of different websites to check if there’s a better deal. About 50% of the time it’s cheaper, and I get some money compensated.

  1. If you get a call from the website saying they need to relocate you…

…Take the relocation.

Shite happens. Sometimes hotels do get overbooked, technology fails, pipes burst, cyclones hit. If you roll up to your hotel and they’re overbooked, or don’t have your booking (you should always have a copy of your booking confirmation in paper or on your phone just in case!), and then they’re a dick about it and say they can’t help you – call your booking site. Use the hotel phone if you need to. The booking site is quite literally, contractually obliged to find you other accommodation in the same area (it doesn’t even have to be with their own site), make sure the difference is covered, and if needed, offer you additional compensation. Usually if this happens on your day of arrival, the only other accommodation available will be equal, or of a nicer standard than what you paid for. You will be accommodated at the better option (if they offer you something worse, tell them it’s not meeting the standard you booked) and with the difference covered. Usually if you ask, they’ll even cover any additional transport costs.

  1. If the accommodation you booked isn’t replying, or is being a dick about something…

…Make sure that any email contact with them is done through the contact form of your booking website.

That way, if the booking website agent has to step in for you – to confirm something, chase up money, compensate you etc. – your written correspondence is all there in front of them. If the agent has no evidence except for what you tell them over the phone, compared to what the hotel tells them over the phone (both guests and hotels do occasionally tell big porkies to get what they want, or avoid paying up) – it’s a lot harder for them to help you when they are unable to make an evidence based decision. Also adding to this – email politely and courteously if there’s an issue – agents can see EVERYTHING. If you go off, it will not help your position.

  1. If you want to find the cheapest price for your stay…

…There are two good times to book:

1-2 days before you stay

If you live life on team #yolo, this riskier option could save you a pretty penny. It’s the day before your stay – when business is slow, hotels are desperate to get rid of their remaining stock, for them selling rooms at cost price is better than making a loss. The best deal I’ve ever seen made like this was a suite that usually cost upwards of $400 USD per night – what the hotel wanted to sell it for – and then booked the day before check in for $100 USD per night, including breakfast.

However, I would not recommend trying this in the following situations:

  • Any time during European Summer (or any typical summer destination in summer season wherever you may be).
  • In any small town, quite far away from any other town – particularly if you’re not travelling with a car.
  • Any busy holiday (e.g. New Years Eve), or localised event (e.g. in Munich during Oktoberfest).
  • If you’re an anxious or type A traveller, or you are travelling with someone who is.

Booking the day before is always risky – you could wind up paying next to nothing for a palace, or else you could be left without anywhere to stay/paying through the nose for a creaky single bottom bunk bed in a hostel down some dingy alleyway (been there, done that). But if you’re a risk taker, flexible with your plans, or travelling in the off-season – this can be a really good option.

A year before

Bear with me for this one – because it can end up incredibly fruitful for you if it works. On the complete other end of the spectrum, imagine this. In January 2019 you know there’ll be a big summer holiday/family reunion/trip in July 2020 – so book it now. This is most likely to work during summer, or particularly seasonal places (the one I saw time and time again for this example was Croatia) – which triple their prices for the 3 summer months where everyone wants to go on holiday there.

Often villas and hotels (especially smaller ones) release the dates they have for bookings in small increments to booking sites, say 6 months in advance, so they can change to their seasonal prices manually when they advertise. If a small hotel or villa is available a year or over in advance, it usually means they haven’t thought about their calendar that far in advance – and that they haven’t set their seasonal prices.

For example, the standard price for any villa/hotel on the coast of Croatia (hearsay) is $60 a night during winter, and $100 a night during summer. If the villa/hotel is not releasing their bookings in increments and has everything available on your chosen booking site that far in advance – there is a good chance they haven’t bothered to physically go in and change everything with the booking site to the correct price for the time of year. As a result you could wind up booking a villa for $60 a night in the high season instead of $100 – like everyone else will end up doing. A good way to check if you’re making a deal is to check other properties in the same area on the same dates – if you find something of a similar standard, notably cheaper than everything else – book it.

Once it’s booked and confirmed (and it’s not a ridiculously obvious difference, like a villa for $10 a night where every other similar villa is $100 a night – again, this changes booking site to site – check the site terms and conditions), it has to be honoured. In the above case the villa has to honour it at the price you booked it for. If they will not, they will try and negotiate with you for a middle ground. For instance, they might say okay, you can have it for $80 a night. It’s still cheaper than the $100 it’s supposed to be (and every other villa of an equal standard is charging $100 minimum. Use your judgement here – you are still saving money, and in some countries you have to consider that renting this one accommodation is literally these people’s livelihood – $20 for you may be a couple of takeaway pizzas, but for them it may be a week’s worth of food.

However, if you keep refusing the negotiated price and don’t reach a middle ground (or the hotel straight up doesn’t negotiate) – your booking site will likely relocate you – and you will pay nothing more than the price you originally booked for – the difference will be compensated. This is actually a blessing in disguise – they are supposed to relocate to a similar standard not necessarily a similar price. So even if your 5 star $60 a night villa will not accommodate you, they will have to put you in a different 5 star villa in the same area – for no more than $60 a night – even though the different villa may cost $100 or more a night. And usually by the time this is picked up, the only villas left are the super boujee $300 a night with a pool villas – the booking site can’t leave you stranded after all – and you will still just be paying $60 a night instead of $300.

This SOMETIMES works – I would say your chances of success are about 50/50 – but it’s a win-win either way. If it gets picked up super far in advance (at least 9 months), and there are lots of similar options still available for a similar price in the same area – sometimes common sense will rule and it won’t work. It is far enough in advance to technically find somewhere else to stay, and the 3rd party will likely get you a free of charge cancellation and help you find somewhere else you love at your chosen price. If there isn’t much else available around (this also works well if you’re on an island), or you kick up a fuss, you will probably get to keep your original accommodation at its cheap price. If they pick it up late, they will have to do everything they can to honour your booking at its original price. What’s the worst that can be happen? You won’t ever be charged for MORE than you booked. Worst case, and you can’t stay in the villa you booked, you will be relocated somewhere comparable, of an equal or higher standard, and compensated for it.

  1. If you are considering booking an OYO property…

…Just don’t.

These guys are the worst to deal with. The company is an Indian based property management site, hustling in hard on the Asian market. They will cancel your booking within 24 hours if they don’t receive pre-payment (including, but not limited to: even if you have a no pre-payment policy, even if you’ve sent payment but due to international banking it doesn’t arrive on time, and even if they haven’t sent you any payment details) – without question or negotiation, or ability to negotiate payment with the host directly. In my experience, this would leaving frustrated guests in need of relocation, often in the middle of nowhere. About 25% of all cases I worked on per day were dealing with OYO (or rather being told repeatedly ‘no sorry mam, it is cancelled, I do not care’). As a result, I will never ever book with them.