Why Book Direct? What’s in it for you?

Those guys? A couple of middlemen. More about them in a moment.

If service fees annoy you — especially surprise service fees — decide right now to book direct your next bed and breakfast stay.

A reservation booked directly with a real bed and breakfast innkeeper or via the B&B’s website will assure that you get:

  • no service fees
  • maximum choices of available rooms and dates
  • the potential of last-minute price deals
  • real, personalized answers to questions about the B&B and the area

And when you book direct, your email address won’t get sucked up in a vast data mining and marketing machine.

Let’s take these book direct benefits one at at time.

How to avoid the service fees

It’s simple:  Cut out the middleman. Divorce that online travel agency (OTA) pretending to be your pal on social media and peppering you with email.  Instead, #BookDirect. I’m using the hashtag because some of us are trying to spread the word….

Expedia, airbnb, TripAdvisor, bedandbreakfast dot com, booking dot com — all are OTAs. All of ‘em and their kind? They ARE the middlemen. Even Google and Bing, our search buddies, get to cash in.

OTAs make their money by charging either the traveler who books a room or the place of lodging — or both. Their strategies vary.

Magistrate Room at Historic Webster House
Lovely room, isn’t it? The Magistrate Room at the Historic Webster House in Bay City can only be booked direct. Only three of this inn’s seven rooms are available on OTA sites.

Check their policies, which change with some frequency. Sometimes you don’t even notice the service fee at first because it appears just as you are poised to enter credit card info.

Perhaps you think it is a service fee imposed by the inn, but it isn’t.

Take airbnb. The property owner gives up at least 3 percent of the room price. For the traveler, the service fee can range from 5 percent to 15 percent. Airbnb doesn’t explain how it calculates the fee, except to say that a higher bill will have a lower service fee.

A service fee of 15 percent on a $400 two-night stay is 60 bucks. Wouldn’t you rather put that money toward a nice dinner?

In addition to paying the service fee, the traveler ponies up the entire cost of the stay at time of booking. (The innkeeper gets nothing until after your stay, by the way.) IF you book a B&B direct, your deposit could be a little as the cost of one room night, with payment of the balance at a much later date.

Tap your inner private investigator

To avoid a service fee, see if the booking can be accomplished elsewhere, other than on airbnb or whichever platform you’re shopping.

Good idea, but don’t bother trying to explore options via the platform. Attempts to share any contact information directly will be redacted. Even  bedandbreakfast dot com, owned by Expedia, is switching to a pay-per-booking model. As B&B innkeepers are transitioned, their website links and other contact information disappear from the site.

A screenshot showing two listings on airbnb
Sometimes it’s easy to spot a real B&B among listings on an OTA website.

The most effective tactic for finding an alternate way to contact the innkeeper is to look for nuggets in the OTA listing that you can Google. For example, look for searchable words in the host’s profile. If you get a full name plus hobby or career information, you might find a Facebook or LinkedIn profile. Or if you find the innkeeper’s full name and can somewhat narrow down the location, it has become somewhat easy to search parcel records on county databases.

Sometimes, your quest to book direct is super easy. On airbnb, for example, where each individually bookable room must have its own listing, if you fancy the lovely Godiva Room at Cocoa Cottage Bed and Breakfast in Whitehall, simply open another browser screen. A quick search will take you to  Cocoa Cottage B&B’s lovely website. Easy and secure online booking. No service fee. Book direct.

Be aware: Not every property you find on sites like airbnb is an established, quality-assured bed and breakfast with its own website, great reviews on other platforms, and roots in their communities. If you find that an owner offers no reservation method other than the platform’s and has no secure method for accepting credit card payments, it might be unwise to book directly.

Other benefits of directly booking a B&B

If you go directly to the inn’s website, you will not only see more photos and get a better feel for the place, but also:

  • All available rooms for the days you want will be shown on the B&B’s own booking calendar. Many innkeepers do not let the OTAs rent their best or most popular rooms. (See the Historic Webster House B&B’s photo above. Only three of this Bay City inn’s seven rooms are made available to OTAs.)
  • All dates can be searched on the inn’s own reservation system. An innkeeper can block out dates when no rooms will be available on an OTA. If you owned a B&B in Traverse City, for example, where MBBA has numerous member inns, why would you give 3 percent — or as much as 18 percent — to an OTA when you’re all but certain to fill your rooms directly during National Cherry Festival or Traverse City Film Festival?
  • You might find last-minute deals. Maybe it’s something extra added, a freebie. Maybe it’s a price cut on a room not covered by the inn’s contract with the OTA. It sure seems worth a look.
  • The opportunity to get personalized information in answer to questions or issues important to you. Have you ever tried communicating with a property owner via an OTA’s email system? The OTA watches over all exchanges to make sure the two parties are not cheating the OTA. Meanwhile, the clunky exchanges between disguised email addresses cheat guests and innkeepers out of genuine human interaction.

When it comes to making reservations for a B&B, who serves you better? The middlemen building online empires by charging you fees and/or gouging small businesses? Or the folks who will greet you by name at their door, show you to a lovely room, and serve you a great breakfast in the morning? Book direct.