Hotels are getting more aggressive in their fight to get travelers to book reservations directly with them instead of through online travel agencies such as Expedia and Priceline.
Hyatt Hotels Corp. on Monday became the latest chain to offer guests a discount for booking a room directly on its own website. Members of its Gold Passport loyalty program can save up to 10 percent at hotels in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
The move follows similar campaigns by Hilton Worldwide, Marriott International and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.
Hotel companies have a tortured relationship with online travel booking sites. They rely on the sites to bring travelers to their properties and fill rooms. But companies like Expedia and Priceline charge commissions of 15 percent or higher. The hotel chains would rather keep that money themselves.
"It costs them less and it gives them a better chance to create a business relationship," said Henry Harteveldt, of travel consultancy Atmosphere Research Group. "They get our email information and a chance to win our ongoing preference."
Harteveldt noted that fewer than one in four hotel guests belong to a loyalty program.
Expedia said online travel agencies help travelers discover new hotels and offer efficiency.
"The vast majority of travelers coming through our sites are new, brand-agnostic and incremental to the chain's existing loyal customers," said Cyril Ranque, president of lodging partner services for the Expedia Group. "To ask a consumer to search multiple sites for the best price sets the industry back 20 years."
As chains bring hundreds of independent hotels into their booking systems, they are trying to prove their own worth and justify their own management or franchise fees. Part of that process means trying to retrain guests to do less price comparison. The idea is that one hotel company's website should be your only stop when looking for a room, whether in a boxy convention property or a boutique hotel.
Hilton launched a marketing campaign in February called "Stop Clicking Around" promoting its own discount for loyalty members - also up to 10 percent - as well as free Wi-Fi. Starwood offers the same discounts. (Hyatt offers free Wi-Fi to all guests worldwide, regardless of how they book.)
Travelers should note that sometimes a discount for being a senior or AAA member is greater than the hotel's member rate. But not always.
When Marriott launched its member-only rates in March, its global marketing officer, Karin Timpone, said the rates were to reward loyalty.
"We also want to help dispel the myth that other travel websites offer better rates for our hotels. The simple fact is that you will find the lowest rates across our portfolio when you join Marriott Rewards and book direct," Timpone said at the time.
At the time of its campaign launch, Hilton's chief marketing officer, Geraldine Calpin, provided a similar explanation: "Our customers don't need to worry about sorting through a dizzying array of websites, enduring hundreds of clicks and wasting hours of time."