When it comes to booking a hotel, most folks have a top priority -- price. But as with most things in life (and travel in particular), shopping purely on price isn't necessarily the wisest move. The advertised price can mask certain things, and if you pay a bit more but land useful freebies, you may come out ahead.
In recent years, major hotel chains like Best Western, IHG, Marriott, Starwood, and Hilton have all implemented Book Direct programs. These encourage people to make their reservations directly with the hotel rather than reseller sites like Expedia, Priceline, and Orbitz. The reasoning is simple: A direct booking means more money for the hotel. Each time they have to cut Expedia and Orbitz a check for a booking, they're losing out on revenue.
The benefit to the consumer is also clear: Rather than pocketing the entire profit, hotel chains are doling out perks that can make your stay better and save you money, once all the fees are factored in. Here are a few to look for:
What started with big brands like Marriott and Hilton has become a near-universal perk: If you book direct, you don't have to pay for WiFi. The cynic may argue that in this day and age, providing fast, free WiFi should be a responsibility of any venue calling itself a hotel, but most still charge obscene rates. To avoid paying $5, $10, or even $20 per day to stay connected, you'll need to either be an elite member of a given hotel chain, or simply book your stay direct.
This one sounds good in practice, but it does require a bit of legwork on your end. Practically every major hotel chain now promises to offer the best possible rates when booking direct, so if you happen to find a superior rate elsewhere, you can lobby for the hotel to meet or beat it. We'd recommend looking up a given room direct, and then again on sites that list a host of hotel resellers. If you spot a better rate elsewhere, phone up the hotel chain and see if they'll match it.
This is a big one. Most hotels will not let you earn points on stays that were booked via a reseller. Each chain values a single point differently, but there's no arguing that points are worthwhile. Accrue enough of them, and you'll be able to cash 'em in for a free night. There are few things more disheartening than saving $3 on a stay by using Priceline, only to realize that you're forfeiting $20 worth of points on the back end. (Though, missing breakfast by 10 minutes is pretty rough as well.)
If you're an elite member of a given chain, you'll do yourself a solid by booking direct. Many big chains will refuse to dole out the usual elite perks if they see that you booked via a reseller. So if your status typically nets you free breakfast and a couple of drinks at the bar, those amenities could be removed if you book through a reseller.
It's important to note that corporate booking mediums like Concur aren't seen as resellers in the eyes of hotel chains. That's massively important for road warriors, as these channels will be viewed as "direct" in the eyes of the property.
While they may not be as far-reaching, smaller hotels are looking to Book Direct incentives, too. Lorraine Hotel in Miami Beach, for example, offers a welcome drink and exclusive discounts to local attractions, if you book with them.