Call the hotel and book direct. You'll often pay less and get more.
Updated: Oct 21, 2021
I was reminded this morning of an old tip that still holds up; in a world where each online-travel-agency website promises Even Cheaper Rates, you can often still land a better deal on your hotel stays simply by talking to a human at the hotel itself, and booking your room directly with the hotel.
This is especially true for boutique or independent hotels that aren't part of a major chain; you'll often notice that these properties have a note on their website offering to match any price you find through an online travel agency (OTA) website. The reason these OTA sites are able to offer better prices to you, is because they're getting *much* better prices from the hotels in exchange for sending them new customers. It's basically the same model UberEats uses with restaurants.
Why This Works
When you pay $100 to a hotel, they give you a room and make a profit, but let's say you find a deal for $90 to "CheepTravelz.com" to book the same hotel for you instead. You save $10, CheepTravelz pockets $10, and the hotel only ends up making $80.
I'm not trying to make you feel sad for the poor hotel owner, only pointing out that the hotel has a financial incentive to have you as their customer directly, rather than through a third party. Point is, they've often got room to match the price you found online, and/or offer upgrades, amenities, free cancellation etc. to sweeten the deal.
For my upcoming post-vaccination trip to visit family in Vancouver, the same $189/night I would have paid Expedia for the 4.5-star Auberge Vancouver, got me better cancellation terms and a free upgrade from a King Room to a King Suite by booking direct with the hotel.
This won't always work, and as I mentioned above, I find it works better at a boutique hotel than at any of the big chains, but even the big chains will often match the price you found online. In this case, booking direct has other advantages; rooms booked through a third-party website almost never qualify to earn hotel award points or elite status, and even if you already have status, your perks usually won't apply.
Long story short, it's almost always worth calling to ask, and the worst that can happen is you've wasted five minutes on the phone.
One solid exception to this rule is in higher-end properties that belong to programs like Travel Leaders SELECT, or American Express Fine Hotels And Resorts. In these programs, you'll generally pay a bit more than even the hotel's best rate, but often get perks like $100 resort credits, late check-out and free breakfast (the good kind, none of this bagels-and-cereal-in-a-conference-room nonsense).
The Fine Hotels and Resorts program usually requires holding a premium Amex credit card, but the SELECT benefits are available through travel agents with membership in the program - like me!