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Should you book hotels direct or through an online portal?

A few clicks is all it takes these days to sort the hotel for your holiday or business trip. Why call the hotel directly when you can use online portals like Booking.com, Expedia and HRS?

But in fact, it could be a good idea to look more closely before you click. Online booking services don't come for free - and it's usually the consumer who ends up paying.

"On average, these portals charge around 15 per cent commission, which hotels then include in their overall rates. So in the end, the consumer pays," says Miika Blinn from the Federation of German Consumer Organisations.

Hotel booking portals have some important benefits, Blinn says, including the fact that they allow consumers to compare different hotels quickly and easily. But the price of a room is likely to be cheaper if you go direct to the hotel's own website.

Some hotels also offer extra benefits to those who book direct, says Markus Luthe, chief executive of the German Hotel Association (IHA). "These might include a free parking space or a room with a mountain view," he says.

Hotels might also offer rooms that are not available on the portals, Luthe adds. "At times when experience suggests the hotel will be well booked, they only advertise rooms on their own website and not on the portals."

The popularity of online portals might be growing, but booking direct through hotel websites is also becoming more common.

According to Luthe, this option works especially well for hotel chains, which have the staff, money and technical know-how to entice customers onto their own websites using online marketing campaigns.

Independent hotels, by contrast, attract a smaller number of bookings through their own websites and tend to rely more on external booking platforms, he says.

In any case, "Realistically, most hotels can no longer afford not to be present on the booking portals," says Luthe.

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