Tips on booking hotel rooms online: Why you may not get a refund if your booking is cancelled

Got a date with a hotel room you won't be keeping? With our overseas travels hobbled this year, plenty of Aussies find ourselves with hotel reservations that aren't going to happen. If you managed to defer your booking with no penalty, all well and good, but many of us won't be seeing either a refund or credit for a non-stay.

Painful though it might be, that could be down to us. Booking a 'no refund' deal at your hotel, not checking the cancellation policy and the terms and conditions, being seduced by the attractive rates offered on a third-party site are just some of the ways that a hotel booking can go south and cost you heaps. Take it as a learning experience, and a timely reminder of the boxes that need ticking before you lock in your booking.

Check prices on the online travel agents' (OTA) websites such as booking.com and Expedia, but book direct with the hotel. Even when the OTA's price looks cheaper than what the hotel is offering, your hotel should be able to price-match and you'll usually get a superior room. Beware of OTAs that disguise themselves with a variation of your hotel's name. If you're searching for the website of the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas, websites with 'excalibur.reserve-hotels' or 'excalibur-las-vegasreservations' are not the hotel's website. Another reason to book direct with a hotel, if a problem arises and you're forced to cancel or amend your reservation, who's got your cash matters. If it's the hotel they're more likely to be sympathetic, bearing in mind the terms and conditions associated with your booking. Check the cancellation policy before you lay down your cash.

Hotels frequently discount the room rate if you book and pay on a 'no cancellation' basis. OTAs might offer the same. You could save around 10 per cent but if you dump the booking you stand to cop a significant fee, in some cases everything you've paid. No comeback, and your credit card provider won't consider a chargeback.

Location matters. Do you want a hotel within easy reach of public transport? Maybe close to a railway station with a fast link to the airport and with plenty of dining options and shops close at hand? Find your accommodation on Google Maps and zoom in to find transport options, cafes, restaurants and attractions within walking distance, with reviews of each. Click and drag the little yellow figure in the lower right corner and you'll get a pedestrian's-eye view of the surroundings.

Have a printed copy of your reservation. Glitches happen within a hotel's reservation system. From time to time your booking might not show up when you arrive at the hotel's front desk. Particularly if you've disregarded sage advice and booked through an OTA.

Your booking may not show up if you've booked through an OTA.

Your booking may not show up if you've booked through an OTA. Photo: iStock

Does the hotel have a loyalty scheme? If so, sign up. It costs nothing, hotels love you back when you demonstrate affection for their brand, and often the perks begin from day one. It might be free internet, a room upgrade or a spa discount. Loyalty-scheme members who book through the hotel's own website will get the best rooms available for the price.

Is that hotel deal just too good to be true? Beware - you might have stumbled onto a scam website. It's not hard to create a website that looks like the real deal, but these mirror websites will pocket your payment and you'll never hear from them again. If you contact the hotel and ask what's happened there's no record of your booking. Your hotel's website should have a URL address that starts with 'https'.

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Pay for your booking in local currency rather than in Aussie dollars and use a credit card with no currency exchange fees, such as the Bankwest Zero Platinum Mastercard, the Westpac Lite card or the ANZ Rewards Travel Adventures card.

Check reviews of your chosen property before you lock in a booking. Hotels won't necessarily tell you if they're undergoing renovations or if there are noisy building works in the area, but other travellers will probably spill the beans. Look at reviews and traveller photos on TripAdvisor, they tell it like it is, which is not the same as the story the hotel tells with its glossy images and silky prose.

Are taxes and fees included in the price? If not they can easily bump up the room rate by 25 per cent. If it's a hotel anywhere in the USA, resort fees can add $US20-80 per day to your bill – just for the privilege of using the pool, the internet, the gym and for the dubious advantage of allowing you to receive incoming faxes free of charge. These fees aren't advertised when you make your booking. In some Las Vegas hotels the resort fee can be higher than the room rate.

See also: Letters: Where's my hotel room refund?

See also: The one big issue that will stop Australians travelling overseas

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