I won’t call myself a smart shopper, because I often give in to impulse and bargains when confronted with an array of goods. When it comes to online shopping, however, I read reviews and compare prices. Usually I spend days and visit the same sites often before making a decision.
Tripadvisor is one of my favorite references for hotel reviews. Sometimes I would book rooms through Agoda or Sawadee.com, and have been using both on and off alternately for over five years. What I like about Agoda is we could earn points that we can later use to get discounts. But they don’t always give the lowest rates for that same reason. For example, I find that it’s better to book directly with the website(s) of Novotel because they offer different rates with flexible terms, e.g. no cancellation, no changes, etc. But Agoda has something other online booking sites don’t, which is the 24/7 Customer Support. I’ve used this service on a few occasions, and most of the agents I chatted with have been very helpful when I wanted a change in reservation dates or choice of room.
The reason I used and recommended Sawadee.com when we lived in Thailand was because every hotel comes with a printable map with directions in Thai for taxi drivers. The site itself is a very comprehensive guide to Thailand, with maps and all. It’s a user friendly site with simple layout and intuitive links. Tripadvisor is cluttered compared to this site.
I never had problems with this site until our last trip to Krabi for New Year. We tried and tried to book our favorite resort as early as September, and finally had to settle for the second worst one — according to reviews anyway. When the protesters began picketing and took over the Bangkok airports I tried again if a vacancy came up. Sawadee informed me our favorite resort was still fully booked. I e-mailed the resort and was told yes, they have rooms available. Then I found out from another site that Sawadee does not refund when you cancel. They also wanted to charge us for one night at the resort we previously booked. Fine, we’ll spend one night at that resort, we said. But our favorite resort was cheaper, so Sawadee told us they’re keeping the difference as service fee. So now I’m just going to use the info on their site but not book through them anymore.
The lesson is to always check the hotel or airline website, too. Sometimes discounts and special deals are posted there first, and sometimes there only.