Calling a Hotel Directly to Get Their Lowest Rate

Thirty years ago, before hotel websites and online travel agencies, you might call a hotel yourself and ask for their “best available rate.” You’d be thinking that you’re clever, they’re going to give you the best rate that’s available not some higher rate. Little did you know that the hotel’s rack rate was named “Best Available Rate” or BAR. You were asking for a non-discounted rate.

So should you still call a hotel for the lowest rate, and what should you ask for?

According to a laughable AOL article you should call a hotel directly to secure the best price and use a three word incantation to save 20% off of the lowest price online. (HT: 777 Global Mile Hound)

Then you’re going to drop some magic words. While you might be tempted to ask for “the best deal” or “the lowest rate,” your secret weapon here is to use the phrase “cheapest nonrefundable rate.” According to experts at Travel + Leisure, that phrase triggers hotel staff to search for the room that will cost you the least for your vacation.

At many hotels ringing a property to book a reservation will just get you kicked to the chain’s central reservations calls center.

If you do get, say, a Marriott hotel employee at a property to look up rates for you they’re now banging away at a system that’s very similar to what you see on the website. Indeed, they even start by searching for their own hotel.

There are, however, situations where you can secure a better rate booking directly with a hotel than you can booking through the chain they’re a part of.

  • Independent hotels, or loosely associated hotels. A hotel that isn’t part of Marriott, Hyatt, etc. but perhaps ‘Small Luxury Hotels’ or another looser association. Even though SLH Hotels has a best rate guarantee (note: booking SLH properties through Hyatt does not come with such a guarantee) you may be able to negotiate something directly. To be sure they may undercut online pricing, saving themselves commission and pocketing the difference.

  • Negotiate a contract rate. If you’re a regular at a hotel property, and are going to be giving them quite a bit of business, they may be willing to offer you a guaranteed rate valid even when they’re full. This rate will have to be negotiated locally with the property and booked directly with the property, usually by email with a designated person.

  • Event rate. Having an event at a hotel, and setting aside a room block, will come with a specific rate that may be lower than what’s generally available. Usually that will involve guaranteeing a certain number of rooms though not always. I’ve certainly gotten special rates for events without making a commitment to a hotel, just a rate code to give out in order to send the hotel business. (They aren’t going to offer other concessions along with a non-guaranteed event rate that they would with a contracted room block.)

The Nines, Portland

In any case except for the smallest individually owned hotel you’re not going to get better deals ringing up and asking the property clerk for a better rate. You usually need to speak to a designated person such as the ‘on-property revenue manager’.

Often, though, entirely apart from room rate discounts — major chain hotels try to enforce pricing uniformity — you may be able to obtain add-ons like upgrades, breakfast, late check-out and on-property discounts. This is especially common with luxury hotels where there’s a lot of margin to play with.

You almost never want to book luxury hotels directly with the chain they’re a part of, or even directly with the hotel itself. Instead third party luxury agents often both earn a commission and can provide better perks for the property. The specific benefits that attach to each booking path vary.

Charleston Place Hotel

As long as you’re not booking a prepaid rate through these channels stays are generally even eligible for hotel loyalty points, elite stay credit, and elite recognition when the property is part of a chain that offers this.

And of course at truly luxury properties there are high end agents with real on-property relationships, that drive enough business to a hotel, to get their guests special treatment. (See, for instance, Wendy Perrin’s WOW List.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Yes, there may be some luxury hotels where agents can get you better rates, but I’d love to see some comparisons between the ones you listed.

    I second your suggestion to avoid the front desk. I remember one incident where I had booked a very cheap rate online in Stockton, and then had to extend my stay due to a flat tire. Having been told that front desks will match online rates, I dutifully went down to the front desk and asked her to give me the same rate I already had. She told me: I have no idea how long ago that rate may have been negotiated, but I cannot match it. So I walked back to my room and booked a new reservation online. Lesson learned.

    The only time I call a hotel to book a room is when I’m having trouble with the chain’s website.

  2. Ah yes the magical words get the deer in the headlight responses for the lowest room rate when you call the hotel directly. That is if you believe in fairy tales
    Next the experts will remind you that old tired advice to dress nicely ask politely and smile as a way to snagging a free First Class upgrade without any elite status
    Still works like a charm 😉

    I have been successful at some select hotels not so much as getting a lower price by just asking but showing a revenue manager that their more premium or equal competitor has a lower price And would they consider matching it and that has worked.
    Especially helpful when I needed to be their for a promotion or meet a threshold bonus etc in a program.Holding Lifetime top tier status in almost every major program there isn’t a need to re-qualify ever these days.sure makes life sweeter staying where you want and nabbing the best deal out there

  3. In India, for non-chain hotels, calling sometimes gets a significantly lower rate than online.

  4. Look for specials on popular booking sites. Check the company’s website. Check AAA rate. I have found those steps usually yielded me the best rates.

    Now I once traveled with a foreign girlfriend in Europe. We would show up in a town with no reservations. We would walk to 3 or 4 hotels and she would talk to them in French or English. We always got good rates for nice rooms. Go figure.

  5. Calling a hotel is fairly useless in regards to rates. Most of them just transfer the call to the main reservation line anyway.

    The useful trick that they should have mentioned is how to score a better value rate for a suite when checking in. Assuming you are not eligible for an upgrade I rarely ever miss out on working with the front desk to get a highly discounted rate for a suite instead of my standard room booking. Peninsula, Mandarin, etc often give front office employees pretty good freedoms in finding a “suite spot” for you and getting you moved up. I often pay no more than $75-$150 a night extra for a full suite category on a room that would have been $500 a night or more extra at the time of booking. And I never take the first offer. It’s often a bit like a Moroccan bazaar…keep pressing. They will negotiate for rooms they know are going to be left unsold anyway.

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