Half-price programs have been helping travelers cut their hotel bills for
decades. While they don't always provide a big discount, they're still usu-
ally a good deal: The discounts are big enough, and you get them often
enough, to justify spending the $40 to $60 you pay to buy into the pro-
gram. Unfortunately, as of early 2000, none of the big programs was yet
taking full advantage of the Internet.
Participating hotels range from lower midpriced to luxury. And they're
available just about anywhere you might want to stay, including small
cities and towns along major highways—places where you won't find any
negotiated rates or broker deals.
The nation's biggest half-price program is run by Entertainment Pub-
lications. You buy a directory of participating
hotels, which includes an ID card valid for at least a year. Once you decide
where you want to stay, you look up the hotels in that area on the Web
site or in the directory, select a hotel, and call or fax the hotel directly to
ask for the "Entertainment rate." You show your Entertainment ID card
when you check in to secure this rate.
When a hotel signs up to participate, it agrees to provide the Enter-
tainment discount any time it projects an occupancy rate of 80 percent or
less. Some hotels offer smaller Entertainment discounts when they expect
to be filled above that point. And some hotels impose blackouts at peak
Entertainment and its clones promise 50 percent off the regular room
rate. However, that often works out to less than half off the price other
travelers pay. The half-price rate is almost always calculated from the
highest posted rack rate—a rate that few travelers actually pay. Still, using
a half-price program usually gets you as good a rate—and often the best
rate—as you're likely to get at a participating hotel.
Several competitors sell half-price programs similar to Entertain-
ment's. Travel clubs often include half-price hotels as one of their features,
and you might get a half-price deal as an employee benefit or through a
charity sale. But if you don't have some other source, Entertainment is
probably your best bet.
The Internet is weak in half-price programs. Entertainment's site is
barely adequate, and its largest competitors—Encore, ITC50, and Quest—
don't have Web sites at all.