Mommy Points yesterday has a post summarizing hotel ‘best rate guarantee’ policies.
The idea is that each hotel chain wants to convince you to book directly through them. That’s because booking through a third party website like Expedia or Orbitz is expensive for them, commissions can exceed 20%.
One strategy is to only offer credit towards elite status when you book directly (most chains, although they general exempt certain non-direct booking outlets) and another is to only offer benefits and points accrual when you book direct. Hyatt and Marriott will at least recognize your status if you don’t book directly, even though you cannot earn credit towards elite status under their rules if you don’t.
The best rate guarantee is a marketing technique to convince you that you’ll get the best rate through the hotel’s own site, so why bother looking elsewhere? Marriott’s is even dubbed the “Look No Further” guarantee.
Hotels can be fined if they don’t load the lowest rates into the chain’s own booking engine. (IHG properties get fined $75 for each successful Best Rate Guarantee claim.)
Contracts with third parties may entail only offering the same rates and not discounting those rates further by effectively rebating part of the commission. (This has raised anti-trust concerns in some jurisdictions.)
Each hotel chain, though, has various rules and restrictions that make it easier or harder to actually process a claim.
And hotels do offer lower rates through third parties all the time. This is especially true when a non-US online travel site is promoting US stays for a sale. The hotel figures they’re segmenting the market enough that they won’t have a problem participating.
The program that I find the most useful is IHG’s.
They will actually give you the first night of your stay for free if you make a successful best rate guarantee claim. If you make one-night stays, then you’re really looking at staying in hotels for free. Although you will not generally earn points or stay credit from the room rate on a free Best Rate Guarantee stay.
(You can’t just do back-to-back free stays at nearby hotels — you are only allowed one free night every 7 days at the same hotel or any other hotel within 50 miles.)
Unlike Starwood you actually have to make a booking with IHG before submitting a claim. So I only like to make cancellable bookings. (Starwood, though, only gives you 2000 points or a 10% discount if your claim is accepted… but it is a way to occasionally rack up free points.)
Here’s the Best Price Guarantee form for IHG hotels which include Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, and related brands.
And here’s the terms and conditions.
Some key points:
- You have to book the lowest price offered for the hotel on the night in question. That may mean a prepaid, non-refundable room. If you’re just looking for a freebie, then you only want to do this if the lowest price is cancellable since there’s always a risk that IHG will reject your Best Rate Guarantee claim.
- You have to process your claim within 24 hours of booking.
- You need to compare the IHG rate to a website that bills in the same currency. If you’re booking a UK hotel in British pounds with IHG, then the comparison website must also book in pounds.
- The price difference has to be at least 1% between the websites or $1, whichever is greater. (1.5% in Australia/New Zealand.)
- The website you are comparing to must provide instant confirmation — some sites sell rooms ‘on request’ and may not actually have the inventory you think you’re booking with them, so those are excluded.
- You want to compare to the same room type, which is usually accomplished by having the name of the room type be the same.
- They do not match to Priceline, Hotwire, and similar sites.
- They only match publicly available prices that can be obtained online. So they exclude:
membership program websites; corporate discounts; negotiated prices; group, rewards program, loyalty program, incentive, meeting, convention, consolidator or interline prices; prices obtained via auction or similar process; or prices available only by using a coupon or other promotion not offered to the general public.
You can submit multiple claims at once on the same hotel. In other words, if you find 3 websites that offer lower rates than the one you’re booking through IHG submit them all separately. I’ve seen 2 get denied and 1 accepted. No need to wait until you’re rejected to them re-submit (during that intervening time the lower rates you’ve found could disappear).
There are certain agents who seem to be more careful in finding gotchas in the terms and conditions to deny claims.
- Some sites that offer good success are Yeego.com, Alpharooms.com and Directrooms.com.
These opportunities are why you want to get to know booking sites you’ve never heard of before, such as Elvoline.com which has worked for some US properties.
One change from early this year that I like a lot is this,
At all IHG hotels globally, pre-paid rates on non-IHG sites will be compared with the IHG hotel’s lowest available rate on IHG websites
That means when you can only find the “Best Available Rate” on the IHG website, you can compare it to a prepaid rate you’ve found elsewhere.
At some point, IHG will change their policy. And after some amount of free nights they could decide a given member is no longer entitled to any. But there’s been a phenomenal run with these free nights, it’s worked for awhile.