I've not booked hotels abroad for years but in the UK I try and book with my chosen hotel directly although telephone numbers often turn out to be the hotel chain hub. Still I've had some reasonable deals and only 2 weeks ago was upgraded on arrival - a wonderful indulgence. I could have cancelled up to midday on the day of arrival which I thought was pretty good.
We usually book through booking.com and have never been charged until we check out of the hotel after our stay, although you are required to give credit card details when you book. Also, there is usually the option to cancel up to a couple of days before your stay.
I wanted to book a hotel for a holiday in September, I looked on line for the best deals, because its quite a while till the holiday, I did not want to pay the full amount up front, in case circumstances change. I would of been quite happy paying a deposit, then the balance nearer the date. What annoyed me was for all of the best deals I would of had to pay all up front with no possible cancellations. The deals where you could cancel you still had to pay up front with your credit card to some companies I had never heard of, then you would have the hassle of getting the money refunded. In some cases it cost another couple of hundred to book the old fashioned way. I have managed to book with a deal that suits me. I wonder how many people have lost a lot of money by not being able to go on their holiday because of a change in circumstances