Online Reservation System: free vs. paid  

Are you looking for an online reservation system for your hotel? You can either choose to use a hotel software provider straightaway, or you can start with a free reservation system or trial version. Whatever choice you make, it’s important to first determine which processes in the hotel you want to optimise. What do you want the reservation system to solve or improve?  

'Online reservation system' is a broad term and can vary completely from sector to sector. Even within the hospitality industry, a reservation system for your restaurant needs different functionalities than for your overnight stays. Within the hotel industry, you can differentiate between an internal reservation system for keeping track of reservations made (digital agenda or Property Management System) or an external reservation engine (form or Booking Engine) that allows guests to book directly with you.  

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Internal reservation system (calendar or PMS)  

Not using a Property Management System yet? In that case, you’re probably currently using Excel, an Outlook calendar or even a physical calendar. You are looking for a digital system that makes keeping track of your reservations more efficient, but which things need extra attention? Are you mainly looking for a clear overview and the ability to easily update the planning, or do you also want to be able to save guest data, print invoices and track housekeeping?  

Why choose a free reservation system? 

You know that managing your reservations should be more efficient or easier, but you don't know where to start. Besides, you don't have many rooms and therefore you can still manage your (digital) agenda. The step into using a paid reservation system may be huge. It’s important to first take stock of what you want (and need) to automate in your hotel to make your daily work more efficient and profitable. A free reservation system or trial version of a PMS can (temporarily) help you figure this out.  

Why choose a paid-for reservation system? 

The main disadvantage of free reservation systems is that they’re not industry-specific. As a result, they do not solve the problems you are currently facing, and it takes a lot of time and effort to get everything the way you want it. Besides, you probably don't just want to replace your agenda but want to have a complete overview of your guests and their stay. For example:  

  • An automatic overview of the status of the rooms, the occupancy, and the arrivals.
  • Creating and changing reservations.
  • An invoicing module for processing and printing invoices for the guest.
  • A housekeeping module to keep track of the room status.
  • Viewing guest history.  

If you know that you need these things to make your hotels daily operations more efficient, it is best to choose a paid-for reservation system. We also call this a Property Management System (PMS).  

Also read: What is a hotel PMS?




External reservation engine (Booking Engine, Online Booking Engine)  

Many hoteliers depend on the biggest booking sites. Although booking sites are very good for visibility and the number of reservations, almost every hotelier benefit more from direct reservations. Direct bookings are usually commission free and there is direct contact with the guest. A reservation module on the hotel website helps the hotel to increase the number of direct bookings.  

Why choose a free reservation engine?  

We want to make one thing clear: there is no such thing as a free booking engine for your website. Even if you choose a simple enquiry form or a (free) plug-in for your website, your website developer will still have to implement it and charge a fee for it. In the end, it will cost you more time and money for the following reasons:  

  • When a reservation request comes in, you need to process it yourself: you have to adjust your availability on the other booking sites, contact the guest and put it in your calendar.  
  • It also costs you bookings: once your guests have chosen your hotel, they want to have certainty about their booking. A reservation request does not provide this, so they prefer to book via the well-known booking sites.  

Does your hotel have a very specific sales strategy or target group in which the immediate acceptance and processing of individual bookings does not fit? This is the only situation in which it might be better to choose a free plug-in or form instead of a professional booking engine. 

Why choose a paid reservation engine?  

A professional booking engine is a must for every hotelier who would like to receive more direct bookings and pay less commission to the booking sites. A modern booking engine not only contributes to a good first impression but also helps you to convert more direct bookings.  

It’s important you choose a booking engine that specialises in the hotel industry and constantly adapts to the way your guests’ book. A booking engine adds value in terms of function, experience, and trust among guests. Think of appearance, style, responsiveness, and more specifically the creation of different room and rate types and offering packages and promotional codes. In addition, a good booking engine can process many different forms of payment such as credit card, iDEAL, PayPal and other international forms of payment. This gives your guests more flexibility and gives you more certainty about your revenue. 


About SmartHOTEL

For more than 16 years, SmartHOTEL has been helping hoteliers navigate the exciting world of online distribution. From our office based in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, our team serves independent hotels, hostels and chains worldwide by providing channel management and tailored online distribution solutions. A lot has changed over the last years, but our goal remains the same: simply connect hotels to the world. For any questions regarding our services, please contact us at or call +31 (0)182 75 11 18.

By Marijke Remmelzwaan | November 02, 2020

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