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4 Questions to Help You Choose Between Paid or Free Hotel Software

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To pay, or not to pay? That is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of glitchy free software or to open your wallet and, by paying, end them.

It’s not an easy choice when it comes to hotel management.

The siren song of free hospitality software is strong, but paying for hotel management software can get rid of so many headaches. But do you have enough headaches for it to make sense to invest in a paid solution?

By answering these four questions, you’ll be able to make an informed choice about whether to go with free software or pay up.

1. How big is your operation?

Size is a huge factor when you’re trying to figure out whether to pay for software. There’s a couple reasons for that.

The first is that while there is some true freeware out there, most options are simply free versions of paid software that are limited in terms of how many people can use the software.

For example, KWHotel offers a free version of its hotel management software, but you can only use it on a single workstation. To get unlimited workstations, you need to upgrade to KWHotel Pro, which starts at about $120 per year for 10 rooms or less. If you have a large operation, you’ll pay quite a bit more than that.

A second reason the size of your hotel matters when it comes to choosing between free and paid hotel management software is support. Getting yourself up to speed on the software is one thing—training and supporting the needs of your entire staff is quite another.

You won’t get support or training with free software, aside from a FAQ page or a user forum, which may not be enough for a large or even moderate-sized organization.

Our recommendation

Free software is a great option for smaller organizations, but if you have a large staff that all need to access the software, a paid option is best.

2. What features do you need?

If you need a lot of software features to cover all facets of your business, you’re probably going to have to pay for it. The reality is that freeware can only get you so far—free versions of paid software are typically pretty limited as far as features go.

If you manage a bed and breakfast, for example, you can probably make do with a simplified free option that allows you to mark off rooms that are reserved, take payments, and manage payroll—the most basic functions of a hospitality business.

But if you have a 400-room hotel with a significant staff, things get a lot more complicated. You may need to go above and beyond just juggling rooms and taking payments.

For example, RMS Hotel offers guest marketing solutions to help develop a deep, lasting relationship with your customers. And Hotelogix, a cloud-based property management system, automates hotel operations so that your staff can spend more time with guests and less time on the computer

Our recommendation

Large hotels tend to need more features to handle their complex operations, and software that offers those features will typically cost money. Free software is a better option for smaller, independent hotels with simple needs.

3. Can you handle commitment?

The nice thing about free hotel management software is you can ditch it at any time. After all, sometimes when you pick software you’re going to find it’s not quite right for your operation.

With paid software, it’s not as easy. Software developers typically want you to pay a subscription and lock you in for a year or longer. That means if you find out later down the road that the software isn’t right for your organization, you’re going to have to take a bath financially as you pay to get out from under it.

For example, Cloudbeds charges a 50-room hotel $211.60 per month, but that is billed annually. So if you spring for that option, you’ll have to pay about $2,500 up front. That would be an expensive mistake if you find out later that you made the wrong choice.

To offset the risk, ask the salesperson if they are willing to put together a month-to-month plan if you’d be willing to pay a little bit more. Remember, everything’s negotiable in the world of sales.

Our recommendation

Keep in mind that you can get rid of free software that doesn’t work for you at any time, but paid software may lock you into longer contracts.

4. Could a consultation help you make your choice?

Many software options won’t advertise a price, requiring you to set up a consultation first. While this may sound like a hassle, it is actually helpful in the decision-making process. A consultation gives you an opportunity to question the salesperson directly on whether the software has features you need, as well as work out pricing terms that you can afford.

Ask the salesperson what kind of training and support they offer, and then get that in writing. This will mitigate the risk of purchasing software as opposed to getting it for free—after all, if you get free software, you’re on your own if something goes wrong.

Also, don’t be afraid to just come right out and ask the salesperson: why should I pay for your software when there are plenty of freeware hotel management options? If he or she can’t make a convincing case, maybe you’re better off with free software.

Our recommendation

Consultations provide an opportunity not only to determine if the software offers the features you need, but also to allow you to work out a price that makes sense for your business.

What do you think about paid versus free software?

Our hotel management software directory is filled with both free and paid options, so that is the best place to start your search for the software that will fit your business.

We’re curious: how many of you paid for your software, and how many went with a free version? What caused you to make your decision, and are you happy with your choice? Please, let us know in the comments below.

Looking for Hospitality Property Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Hospitality Property Management software solutions.

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About the Author

Dan Taylor

Dan is a content writer at Capterra, specializing in hotel management, construction and real estate. Outside the office, he enjoys spending time with his family and friends, catching up with the latest offering from HBO or paying a visit to a new place.

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