Last week, my husband insisted I take a night away from it all and – earning him “best husband ever” honors for life – sent me to a local hotel for a night of rest and relaxation. It was just what the doctor ordered. We even booked my hotel room through Expedia, the largest of the Internet’s travel websites, to snag a great deal. I was regaining my sanity without losing my money; it was heaven.

And then I read this – and this – from a pair of American ex-pats who run a small, independent hotel along the Mexican Riviera. My first thought was this is a bunch of sour grapes!, but the more I read the article, the comments left by readers, and did my own research on the Internet, the more I started to think otherwise.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post for another blog about buying a Groupon. In the article, I suggested that while Groupon might be great for getting your company and its products or services off the ground, it was ultimately a shoddy deal for the business whose Groupon you bought. Why? Because Groupon – and other discount sites like it – takes a large chunk out of every sale, leaving the company with a smaller piece of the pie. I even pointed to a situation where a friend of mine had negotiated an even better deal than the one offered by Groupon after contacting the merchant directly; it’s a tactic I’ve since employed myself, with positive results.

However, I’d never considered transferring the lessons learned by Groupon over to booking cheap hotel rooms or other travel-related expenses. It’s why I went straight to Expedia for my latest hotel stay; it’s why I was using travel websites like Hotwire (which is owned by Expedia) to plot out my family’s big vacation later on this year. In my heart, I must have known that these aggregate sites were bad for small businesses, but I always assumed they were good for travelers, so I let it slide… until I read about those hotel owners in Mexico and the gargantuan battle they were engaged in with Expedia.

So I decided to try an experiment – to see if the room I’d booked for my mom’s night out would have been cheaper if I’d bypassed the travel websites altogether. First, I looked up how much the exact same room at the exact same hotel on the exact same night of the week (albeit one week later) was going for on Expedia and Hotwire; then, I called the hotel, mentioned what I saw on the travel websites, and asked if they could match or beat the prices. The woman who answered the phone at this hotel – a local, privately-owned hotel that is not a part of any chain – put me on hold for a minute, and when she came back (I assume after talking with a supervisor?), she informed me that she could give me the room at the same price I saw quoted online – with a $1 “good faith” discount, which I saw as the hotel’s way of saying they appreciated my effort to give them 100% of the money I was spending on a hotel room, instead of the 75% they’d have received if I’d booked through a site like Expedia.

This isn’t to say I’ll never ever use Expedia or any of its affiliates again – in fact, I’m likely to return to these travel websites just to see what kind of cheap hotel rooms they’re offering for my next vacation. What I won’t do, though, is book a room, flight, or rental car through them again. I’d rather support businesses instead of paying the middle man, even if it means an extra phone call or two on my part.

Libby Balke
Libby Balke