Hotel bookings are kind of the opposite of flights, i.e. award bookings are really simple and revenue bookings are where you can really take advantage of things.
For the most part this is pretty simple…Pretty much every chain has moved to a system whereby if a base level room is available, you can book it for the required amount of points. That’s it. And you can book these right on the hotel chain’s website. Yawn.
I will offer a couple tips…Cash and points awards are generally the way to go when they are available, but it is pretty rare to find them. Several chains offer a stay X nights on points and get the [X+1] night free. That is something to be aware of. Another one is a points and miles combo redemption.
Basically, read the hotel award rules of whatever points you have. It is really pretty simple.
Starpoints are my favorite hotel points, but I avoid actually redeeming them at hotels in most circumstances (I save them for airline transfers). I also really like Hyatt points and have redeemed a bunch of them (transferred through Ultimate Rewards). I used to like Hilton, but they just did unspeakable things to their award chart – making the best redemptions up to 3 times more expensive than they were a couple months ago.
This is where it gets interesting. There are several ways to save a lot of money. My favorite – by far – is best rate guarantees, but there are other methods as well.
My first rule has little to do with saving money, but it is something I live by with hotels…And that is to NEVER book prepaid/non-refundable reservations. Maybe if it is the day before your stay, but otherwise don’t do it.
Being flexible also helps. Don’t have your heart set on a specific hotel, be willing to go with whatever one has the best deal at the moment…Though, it goes without saying that hotel must be acceptable to you…Don’t stay at crap places for a deal, or it will be a total waste.
Keep checking the rates. If you can’t find anything great at first, keep checking and something almost always opens up. If you do find something good, keep checking as it could get better (unless you’ve got a killer deal). This is the main reason I book refundable rates, in addition to the fact that you never know when you may need to cancel.
Best Rate Guarantees (“BRG”)
I’ve touched on this previously, but the whole point to hotel chain best rate guarantees is to get you to book using the hotel’s website. That way, the hotel does not have to pay a commission to a 3rd party website/vendor.
So why do I like them so much? First – and most obviously – you can save a lot of money using Best Rate Guarantees. Second, you still get hotel points, status benefits, and stay credit (you generally do not get points/credit if you book through a 3rd party). Third, you can do some status related things on best rate guarantees that you can’t on other rates, e.g. apply a suite upgrade certificate at Hyatt.
Enough talking about it, how much can you actually save? I’ll give a Marriott example because they handle BRG’s through e-mail, giving me a record of original rate and new rate. We went to Napa in August 2012 and ended up using points at the Embassy Suites there, but I had booked a stay at the Marriott as well.
The original rate was $289 plus 14% tax a night – or $329.46 total. I found a rate of of $173 on otel.com. Marriott matched that plus took an extra 25% off. My final rate was $129.75 or $147.92 a night with tax. In Napa. In August. That was a saving of 55% a night or $725 over 4 nights. Not bad.
I have the most experience with Hyatt on Best Rate Guarantee claims. Hyatt requires you to call in and request the claim within 24 hours of your booking…If you are outside of 24 hours – no big deal. Remember? You booked a refundable reservation; just book another reservation and cancel the original after your rate is matched.
Hyatt will not only match the better rate, but they will also beat it by 20%. This can result in some significant savings; I know I’ve benefitted greatly from it. Here is Hyatt’s link to BRG claims. If the first person you call gives you trouble with the rate; hang up and call again. You will hear completely different things from different phone reps. One will tell you that site is ineligible and has been forever. The next will match the rate with a smile on their face – or at least that is how they come across on the phone.
Marriott’s Look No Further Rate Guarantee is my other favorite program. Marriott will match any competing rate and then take an extra 25% off. They require you to submit a form online within 24 hours of the reservation. If they deny you originally, don’t hesitate to reply with more directions on how to find the rate including a screenshot showing that it is still available…They seem to have trouble finding rates at first.
I don’t have much experience with Intercontinental Hotel Group (Intercontinental, Holiday Inn, etc.) BRGs, but they will match the better rate and give you a free night. This is obviously a huge savings on short stays…lesser on longer stays. A coworker saved something like 60%-70% on a two night stay using this.
Starwood will match the better rate and [give you 2000 Starpoints or take a further 10% off the rate]. I haven’t used this one too much, as it is not as appealing as the others. But, it is certainly better than nothing.
Hilton’s BRG program pretty much sucks on anything but one or two night stays. They’ll match the better rate, and mail you a $50 gift card. A much smaller savings than the other methods…though again, it’s better than nothing.
So how do you find these rates…They’re not just growing on trees. [Does that even make sense?]
I almost always start at an aggregator site. I like www.room77.com and www.hotelscombined.com . By no means should your search end there though. Here is a list of other sites to look at, and others are always popping up:
Other Rate Reduction Methods
Are you a AAA (yep, the car service) or AARP member? Click the box, as those rates are almost always lower than the typical best available rate on a website.
Professional societies typically have reduced rates negotiated with certain hotels. For example, ABA members can save a lot at Ritz Carltons, among other places. I just checked in New York and you look to save $350 a night by typing ABA in to the corporate rate code box – if Ritz Carlton’s are more of your flavor.
Not a lawyer? Join the ABA as a non-lawyer member. If you’re potentially saving $350 a night, it is definitely worth it.
While Hilton’s BRG program is pretty lame, they do offer a decent reduced rate Allstar/MVP Program. Just search the linked site to see what is available.
If you know someone who works for a hotel, you can potentially get friends and family benefit savings. These can be very good, or pretty minimal.
A touchy subject is corporate rates and government rates. If you work for a corporation/the government and are eligible for these rates, go crazy with them. Some people use corporate rates that they are not eligible for, but I’d recommend against that.
Specialty Travel Agents/Credit Cards
Perhaps you noticed, but – if not – I don’t really rely on travel agents. I plan for myself, as I’m the only one that truly knows what we enjoy…and don’t even get me started on travel agents that sell packages, which they make a nice commission on. Nope, there’s certainly no conflict of interest there. /sarcasm off
Still I use a travel agent to book occasionally. Why? He is a virtuoso travel agent, which gives several added benefits and frequently better rates. Plus, he is a travel agent I’d actually trust for recommendations in general (if needed).
What do you get by booking through a Virtuoso agent at Virtuoso hotels? It varies, but it typically includes free breakfast, a guaranteed upgrade, a welcome amenity (e.g. Champagne), a food and beverage credit, and/or late checkout. Again, those are common examples.
We booked our honeymoon at Peter Island through Virtuoso and got upgraded from a Hillside ocean view room to a Beachfront room. It was something I really wanted, but wasn’t going to pay the extra $450 a night for. Another benefit was that the Virtuoso rate was $70/night less than the best publicly available rate.
Virtuoso hotels are typically more “luxury” properties, but they have a pretty good range. So it is always worth considering. If you need a Virtuoso travel agent, e-mail me and I’d be happy to refer you to mine. He is good at what he does…and won’t try to sell you on some incredible package.
If you have an American Express Platinum Card, it has the Fine Hotels and Resorts program. It has pretty similar benefits to Virtuoso but will also include certain things like “get the third night free.” So it is always worth checking if you have an AMEX Platinum.
Ben at One Mile at a Time goes in to much more detail on Virtuoso and Amex FHR. But we’re just getting started on specialty booking sites…
Some more sites for special booking benefits are:
The bottom line for this group is to book through one of these methods if you will be staying at a property covered by any of these sites (unless you can find a BRG, which is rarer for this group). It does not cost you any more money, and it comes with some significant benefits.
I’m generally not a fan of booking with these site because
-The rate is non-refundable
-You don’t know which hotel you’ll be staying at
-You don’t get points/stay credit
-I usually get better prices at a specific hotel through BRG claims
That said, bidding sites can still have their place. If you can’t find a BRG and have no loyalty to a particular hotel chain, Priceline (etc.) can save you some good money.
You can narrow your search by area and hotel rating (i.e. 1 star to 5 star), so you will have an idea what you will get – though I’ve seen questionable star ratings on these sites.
And if you are going to go this route, there are some great resources out there to help give you a better idea of what hotel you will likely end up with and what is a good price to bid. Here are some good links on these types of sites:
Deal-a-day/Auction Style Sites
At one point, there weren’t many of these at all. Now, it seems everyone and their brother send out a daily e-mailer on travel destinations. I don’t really use these – at all. When they first came out, I remember seeing the occasional decent deal. Though most deals could have been had right on the property’s website.
That said, there is one site I that had some pretty decent Caribbean deals – LuxuryLink. It was around before the advent of the deal a day spam mailers, so that one may be worth checking out.
There aren’t really many ways to save on these. In fact, the only way is to ask. If you are only one couple staying in a two bedroom rental, maybe try something like this: “Hi my wife and I are considering staying with you __[time]__. It’s just the two of us, and we’ll only be using one bedroom. Do you offer any discounts in that situation.” Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t.
Just remember that you’ll be meeting face to face with these people when you check in…and odds are they will have just read your e-mails. So don’t act like an ass in asking for discounts. Unless of course, being an ass doesn’t bother you.
So that’s about all the stuff I can come up with on hotel discounts at the moment. There is more out there, but this should be plenty to keep you busy.