If a customer who reserves with Hilton finds a lower rate for the same stay at another Web site in the next 24 hours, for example, Hilton will match the rate and throw in either a $50 gift check or a $50 discount. Marriott and Starwood Hotels also offer rate guarantees.

As another incentive for direct booking, major hotel chains have largely stopped offering loyalty program rewards to guests who reserve rooms from the online travel agencies.

The efforts have been working. In 2004, half the $14.5 billion in online hotel bookings with hotel companies based in the United States were made through online agencies, and half were made directly with hotel sites, PhoCusWright says. Last year, 55 percent of the estimated $23.5 billion in online hotel bookings were made directly, with hotels cutting the online agencies' share to 45 percent.

Get the full story at the San Jose Mercury News