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Destination Guide

On Sale from a Hotel

As is the case with airlines, the best place to start looking for a hotel deal

is the hotel chains' own Web sites. Just about any chain you can name

operates a site; the Appendix lists more than 100 of them. Again, as is the

case with airlines, even if a chain's best advertised deal isn't your best bet,

it's the benchmark against which you measure other possible deals.

Big hotels and hotel chains typically have more than one published

list price for any given location, on any given date. At a minimum, you'll

find rack rate and regular corporate rate. The corporate rate is typically

around 10 percent below rack rate, and usually all you need to get it is to

present some sort of business card. No matter that you show up in shorts

and an aloha shirt, with three kids in tow, you can still qualify for that

corporate price. Most hotel Web sites show corporate rates.

Hotels also frequently run sales and short-term promotions. Rates

range from a few percentage points below rack rate to a really big cut. These

rates, too, are often shown on the chains' Web sites. In some cases, pro-

motional rates will come up automatically when you check prices and

availability. In others, you must click a button for promotions or deals.

Obviously, hotels don't post all their rates on their Web sites. Most

big chains offer additional sets of rates that are individually negotiated with

some of their better corporate customers—rates that are well below the

published corporate rates.

 

Inside the System:

Where First Class Isn't the Top

If you've ever checked into a hotel described as "First Class" and

wondered whether it was really one of the city's best hotels, you're

in good company. Many travelers, used to the airlines' terminology,

conclude that First Class represents the highest category the hotel

industry can offer.

It doesn't. The hotel rating system in widest use these days (the

Official Hotel Guide, or OHG) places First Class in the middle of its

rating spectrum:

Deluxe 

Superior Deluxe

Deluxe

Moderate Deluxe

 

First Class     

Superior First Class

First Class

Limited-Service First Class

Moderate First Class

 

Tourist

Superior Tourist  

 Tourist   

Moderate Tourist

 

Here's what OHG says about a First Class hotel: "A dependable,

comfortable hotel with standardized rooms, amenities and public

areas—May have superior executive level or wing—May be safely rec-

ommended to average travelers not expecting Deluxe facilities or

special services—Should also be satisfactory for better groups."

That definition probably about fits what you encountered in that

First Class hotel—a far cry from the top. The real top is Superior De-

luxe, which translates as: "An exclusive and expensive luxury hotel,

often palatial, offering the highest standards of service, accommoda-

tions and facilities—Elegant and luxurious public rooms—A prestige

address—Establishments in this category are among the world's top

hotels."

 

 
 
 
 

 

Unfortunately, not all hotel chains are as diligent or open as Outrigger

in posting their promotional rates. During most of 1999 and 2000, for

example, the Thistle chain in the United Kingdom offered a "Pounds

For Dollars" promotion for U.S. visitors: Pay the same number of dollars

as the rack rate, expressed in pounds. Since a pound was about $1.60,

that meant a rate reduction of some 40 percent. Thistle's Web site

(www.thistlehotels.com) made no specific mention of that deal. The site did

show a rate for "PFD promotion," but unless you knew that name, you'd

never figure out the deal.

Another way that hotels cut prices is through packages—sometimes

just for a room, but more often for a room plus one or more additional

features: meals, entertainment, recreational activities, or sightseeing. Evalu-

ating packages is tricky. Usually the reduction, if any, comes in the com-

bined prices of all of the elements, and you can sometimes have trouble

estimating the value of these elements.

Many hotel chains and individual hotels develop and sell their own

packages. Typically, you find them on the regular hotel Web sites, often

under a special heading such as "vacations" or "packages." Airlines and

wholesale tour operators also sell hotel packages; see Chapter 6 for details.

Always take a quick look at packages when you're checking out

hotel rates. In my experience, however, a package is seldom the cheap-

est option if all you want is a basic hotel accommodation. Take a careful

look at what else is included, set a dollar value on it, and then compare

the package price with what you can get by buying the room separately

through any of the discount approaches mentioned. And beware: Many

hotels quote package rates as per person rather than per room.

These same comments apply to self-contained resort vacations. You

can look on them as the ultimate package: everything you need in

a hotel or resort stay for a single price. Inclusive rates are great if you

really take advantage of a good share of the recreational and social options

that are available; not so great if you just want someplace to rest and

relax. You often see peak and off-peak pricing and occasional sales at those

resorts, as well. Again, you can find what's available on the individual

chains' Web sites.

 

The Art of the Deal

Not all your deals will be the result of your Internet expertise. Surpris-

ingly, some of the easiest discounts to get are those that you simply

ask for yourself. When you call for a reservation, check the price, but

then—no matter what the response—ask if the hotel has a better deal

available. While I was writing this chapter, I had to make a quick trip

to Texas to appear on a program. I started by calling a big chain where

I had often found outstanding senior deals. "Is the senior rate avail-

able?" I inquired. "No," said the agent, "the regular rate is $165."

"That's too much," I responded, "I'll try somewhere else." But before

I could hang up, the agent hastily interjected, "Oh, I can't give you

a senior rate, but I can give you a corporate rate of $86." "Fine," I said

and I made the deal.

That system works best when you call a hotel directly, but it can

work through a national reservation office, too. However, you must

talk directly to a reservationist: You can't dicker over the Internet.

How much can you save that way? In general, the percentage

discount you get at a hotel varies inversely with your odds of getting

it. Modest discounts of 10 percent or so are often available, even when

the hotel is full, for AAA members, seniors, corporate travelers—and

just about anyone else. But when a hotel is hungry, you can look for

cuts as high as 50 percent. The amount of the discount—if any—is

strictly up to local hotel management. Of course, you also have to be

ready to back off and be really willing to try somewhere else. If you

aren't flexible, you could wind up paying rack rate. Just remember,

it's a bazaar—and act accordingly.