With summer officially in full swing, hospitality staff at Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels are turning their attention to pampering visitors from all over the world.
The pools are cool, the nights are warm, and everyone is languid. Yes, it’s hot, but hey, midday, head to the museums, the top of the mountain on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (where it’s always 30 degrees cooler and the views are breathtaking), or hit the air-conditioned stores and galleries to take advantage of their sizzling summer sales. Most Palm Springs restaurants remain open — however, they may adjust their hours, so be sure to check their websites.
The sooner you book your stay, the better. For the past couple of summers, Palm Springs’ small boutique hotels, many with a vibe to fit your travel style, have been busy. That said, you can save some serious money and time by booking directly with a boutique hotel inside of going through a third-party travel platform. Plus, you’ll have a much better experience in general.
“Small hotels have distinct personalities. That’s one of the things that makes them special,” says Michael Green, owner of the Triangle Inn Palm Springs. “So if you want to stay at one, go direct. You’ll get the best sense of the hotel itself.”
Here are six reasons you should book directly with a boutique hotel or resort:
1. Room choice
Many of Palm Springs’ small hotels and resorts (those with no more than 50 rooms) have been remodeled, often resulting in new additions, removal of walls to make larger suites, and a carefully-curated environment to enhance the guest experience.
Third-party booking companies are given a block of tickets to sell in a particular area of the hotel, with no knowledge of where rooms may be located or details on the hotel’s total environment.
“Room choices are often ‘run of house’ with third parties, as opposed to the guest booking directly with the hotel and locking in their room,” explains Sarah Martinez, general manager of Azure Sky, a new luxury boutique hotel in Palm Springs. Green concurs, saying, “Booking platforms generally only get a select piece of inventory from hotels, and especially from small hotels — maybe just one room type — so for the full picture, it’s always better to talk to the hotel directly.”
We’ve all been there. You booked a flight through one of the discount sites, and it gets delayed due to weather, there’s a schedule change, or you have a family emergency. You need to contact someone for help, and that’s when the epic nightmare of a time sink begins.
After a long wait on the phone, the airline says they can’t help because you booked through a third party, so you must call them. The person who answers does not understand the situation or doesn’t have the authority to make changes and says there is no way they can help. You push for a higher manager, and the saga continues. The same scenario can happen when you use a third party to book hotel reservations.
“Because third-party reservations lock us out of any changes or adjustments, it’s easier to adjust a reservation that has been booked directly,” says Kent Taylor, general manager at Descanso Resort.
The text arrives: Aunt Mable decides she wants to come along on the trip after all. Great — you have a built-in babysitter! — but now there aren’t enough beds for everyone.
“If you booked directly with the hotel, it’s super easy to call it and modify your reservation … perhaps to a suite or whatever accommodation hotel management suggests. Flexibility is number one,” Martinez says. “Once a guest books a room through a third party, the hotel cannot make changes to the reservation and the guest has to deal with the third party directly. It created a middleman which can lead to frustration because it may appear the hotel is not helpful.”
Taylor agrees, saying, “We try very hard to be as flexible as possible. There are so many unforeseen situations in our world these days, the last thing anyone needs is more complications while just trying to take a vacation.”
4. Packages and special deals
Especially during the summer, when making a reservation with a hotel, ask if there are any packages available. Palm Springs is a very close-knit community, and often attractions work with hotels to offer guests special rates for the abundance of things to experience.
“Many hotels offer perks to those who book directly, such as upgrades or cancellations without penalties,” one hotelier revealed. “But it’s usually on a case-by-case basis, so you’ll never find them on one of the third-party booking platforms.” Martinez is more blunt, declaring, “Hotels offer various deals and packages not found on third-party sites.”
Being a responsible traveler and planner, you are probably accustomed to checking out third-party websites. Always a good idea, but do not stop there. Once you have selected the hotel that appears to meet your needs, check out their website and call the number listed. Be ready with your accommodation needs and ask them for their advice and the price. If it appears the price is higher than you found online, tell them — they would rather give you the discount than pay the third party a fee.
According to Martinez, hotels will often price match, except when the third party is directly undercutting the hotel or is packaging the room with other sales, such as airfare or car rentals.
“We prefer direct bookings to reduce the commission cost of 18 percent from the OTAs (other travel agencies),” says Robert Hunt, general manager of Alcazar Palm Springs. This also “allows the front desk agent to discuss the type of room that best fits the guest’s needs, since we have 10 different room types available on the property.”
Plus, sometimes a “deal” from an OTA or booking platform really isn’t. Taylor shares this cautionary tale: “I had a small group call about booking a specific weekend with several rooms. After giving them the information they needed, they decided to all book themselves on the website. Everyone but one booked directly with the hotel. One member of the group booked with a specific website that offers a portion of a free hotel night, if a certain number of rooms are booked in the year. The one guest who booked with that third-party website was paying approximately $25 more a night than everyone else in his group. I was shocked to see it! He was paying in advance for his ‘free night’ … and then some.”
“Some OTAs use tricky, misleading tactics to make it appear the guest rate is lower than the hotel,” Martinez warns. “The initial average room rate can sometimes look less expensive but as the guest books, there are large fees added to the booking and the guest is not actually paying a lower rate.”
6. Book direct and make better memories
The special touch offered by front desk agents at Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels will make your stay more memorable.
“The very nature of a third-party booking website removes the personal touch,” Taylor says. “We take many reservations over the phone and people ask a variety of questions that inform their vacation on the whole. Where can we go for our special dinner? Is there a gym close by? Do you serve vegan yogurt at breakfast? Only someone helping you at the hotel will know the answers to these types of questions. It is like having a direct connect to a local for help in creating the best vacation you can have.”
Pro tips to remember:
If you book your hotel directly and need to make a change, they can help you do so with one short phone call.
A direct relationship with the hotel gives you a lot more flexibility because they are in the hospitality business, not the booking business.
When you speak to an employee at a boutique hotel, they can answer your questions about the property, unlike third-party agents who are not familiar with the offerings.
Some booking platforms make it look like you’re getting a lower price, but they tack on hefty fees at the end, increasing the final total.