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.
Official Hotel Guide, or OHG) places First Class in the middle of its
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.
work through a national reservation office, too. However, you must
talk directly to a reservationist: You can't dicker over the Internet.
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.