Not all hotel bookings are created equal, as reader Jim Walsh discovered during a trip to Georgia.

“I recently booked a hotel room through Booking.com for a two-night stay at the Hampton Inn in Savannah for a college visit with my grandson,” reader Walsh wrote in an e-mail. “Even though my reservation was confirmed, it was subsequently denied when I tried to check in.” He later learned by reading travel review sites and talking to hotel staffers that such situations can occur, especially for bookings through third parties.

Walsh’s research landed on an unfortunate truth: Hotels can deny a reservation according to their needs or whims.

When hotels overbook — as they increasingly do — the guests who get thrown to the curb are often ones who paid via third-party online booking services such as Expedia and Hotels.com. That is because hotels prefer reservations booked directly with them, since such bookings aren’t subject to agent fees and help build loyalty with travelers.

The ironic situation for Walsh is that he believed he was making a direct booking with Hampton Inn. “It looked like the Hampton Inn’s website to me,” he wrote.

He isn’t sure what caused the discrepancy for him. But I have a hunch. Online searches for hotels often bring up several booking websites — and those may be listed ahead of the actual hotel website.

In my own searches, using Google, I have encountered sites such as Hotels.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor in the top five results. They are often labeled as an ad, but it’s subtle. Sometimes hotels themselves are labeled the same way, if they have paid to be a top search result.

In my experience, the best way to book is to call a hotel.

As for Walsh’s trip, well, he loved it despite the hotel headache. “If you’ve never been to Savannah, please go. It’s a beautiful city,” he wrote.

 

Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.