The Hotel Rate Ethicist: Corporate Discount Codes, and Your Advice Needed on Whether I Should Renew AAA Membership?

I’ve had AAA membership for awhile, largely because I book AAA rates at hotels frequently. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked for proof of membership at check-in, however.

The Hilton and Hyatt websites both ask you to enter AAA numbers when making reservations online, they don’t check that an account is currently active but presumably check to see that the digits are plausible.

AAA rates aren’t always the best, for instance there are often better corporate rates where if you were an employee of a given company you’d be entitled to a lower negotiated rate — which sometimes codes with added benefits like free or discounted parking, or a much more generous cancellation policy than standard reservations (such as 6pm on day of arrival rather than day prior to check-in).

I’ve never been asked for ID on a corporate rate when checking in, either, although I understand that it’s quite common to be asked for proof of eligibility for a company rate at hotels in Asia, and I do know at least one hotel chain revenue manager that has had his hotels ask for ID (a business card, or at least something with the company’s logo or other identifying marks on it) at check-in for certain rates that are exceptionally good though this practice is very rare in the United States.

It’s certainly ethically questionable to represent yourself as working for a company that you do not in order to obtain a discount to which you would not otherwise be entitled.

On the other hand, you aren’t taking away discounts from others — on the contrary you are boosting the volume of business the company appears to be doing with the hotel chain, helping them to continue to justify such a deep discount in the first place. And hotels actively manage inventory, most of the time whether you book a room at a discount or a higher rate it’s the overall occupancy and projections of how many rooms they’ll sell on a given night that determines whether they open up inventory in the ‘bucket’ that each corporate rate draws from (rather than there being a fixed number of corporate rate rooms per night).

Different folks will approach this issue differently, my tendency is to book rates I’m entitled to.

AAA rates are pretty widely available and one doesn’t have to be an employee of a particular company to be eligible for them. On average I find that the rates are about equal to advance purchase rates, but are cancellable. I’m generally allergic to prepaid rates because my plans change, my preferences for where I’m going to stay change, and because rates may fall after I’ve made my booking and I like to re-check pricing as travel approaches.

With Hyatt some hotels also frequently offer ‘AAA Breakfast Rates’ that are about the same price as the regular AAA rate and advance purchase rate that also throws in breakfast, something I get as a Diamond member of Gold Passport but that would be quite useful otherwise.

Since I use the rates enough to justify paying for the membership, I actually do pay for the membership in order to actually be eligible even if no one is checking.

Years ago I had a AAA membership — when I turned 16 and for a few years thereafter — because my first cars were quite the adventure. I started off with a Renault Alliance that my family paid $800 for and that had electrical problems. It was replaced by a Mercury Topaz with over 130,000 miles on it. I got great use out of the roadside assistance and towing benefits of membership!

But since then I don’t use it for much more than the hotel discount. So I recently let my membership lapse, figuring I’d pick it up again when I saw a good promotion, and especially since I didn’t have immediate upcoming bookings where I’d need to assuage my conscience.

Something arrived in the mail on Friday though that creates a new crisis of conscience for me:

AAA sent a direct mail package to me as a lapsed member, trying to get me to re-up. The package included a membership card, valid through May 1 2014.

Presumably they find that the response rates are higher when they actually send the card.

Now I don’t even have to join to have a AAA card if ever asked. At least for the next 15 months.

So what say you, do I send in my money if I’ll be using the discount?

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, AAA sent Gary a card that he did not request. This brings up the question of “Why?” Because of an established, ongoing relationship. He got the card as a good faith measure on their part. AAA gave him a convenient reminder that it was time to renew and he now holds the next card so he doesn’t have an inconvenient break in carrying a current card. As Gary noted, “Presumably they find that the response rates are higher when they actually send the card.” AAA is doing business with methods they have found to be successful. That’s commendable business practice.

    We all get temptations thrown at us from many directions. When I read the details of Gary’s post it was my hope that he was thinking out loud with the possibilities, not just for himself, but for his readers to think too. It makes us think of the fine line between good and bad behavior toward others. Many would cheerfully jump on board to make contributions for victims of hurricane Sandy. But those same victims could be employees of AAA or the hotels.

    Doing the right thing isn’t always crystal clear but in this case it is. Honesty is always honesty. Honesty is honorable.

  2. @Andy: I encounter convention goers having problems booking at the convention rate because the block of rooms secured by the convention organizers has been sold out. If there are many who do what you suggest — booking the convention rate without intention of attending the convention — you would be exacerbating the problem.

    @DaveS: AAA didn’t offer Gary an actual membership for free, it send him a physical token which their marketing studies probably indicate improves their conversion rate. If AAA sent Gary a notification that he has received actual membership for free, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Receiving a symbol isn’t the same thing.

  3. Do you happen to know if points with a hotel’s loyalty program can be used for upgrades on rooms booked with a corporate rate? Husband’s company allows employees to use its’ corporate rates for leisure travel and we have a long asia trip coming up. . .

  4. Am surprised that you think there is a question here. You are lying to the hotel about your eligibility. You are ripping off AAA by using a membership for which you have not paid. Look up the definition of fraud please.

  5. I’m a travel agent who books hotels for business travelers and leisure travelers. I will not knowingly book a hotel with a AAA rate for a client who is not a member, and I urge clients to join AAA specifically for the discounts as the annual fee (which varies from club to club) is tiny compared to the savings. (For a good client I bought her a membership and then proceeded to track the amount she was saving.) While front desks do not often ask for cards at check in it is not as rare in the U.S. as some people think. I mostly use AAA rates myself when I travel and I would say I’m asked for the card 1 out of 5 times. I had one instance where a client who did not belong to AAA booked the La Quinta in Manhattan using the AAA rate. I did so because he said a cousin who did belong would be traveling with him. Turns out the cousin couldn’t meet up with him after all, and guess what – he got asked for his card. The front desk raised his rate to the non-AAA rate. Misrepresentation is a nicer word for lying, and it can have consequences.

    AAA is a solid organization that provides a lot of benefits in addition to lodging discounts (excellent Hertz discounts, 10% off of Amtrak fares, great maps and tourguides, etc) that it just seems cheap not to join it if you’re going to take advantages of one of the benefits it delivers to its members.

  6. You didn’t order it so you are under NO obligation. Personally, I would use the hotel discount but certainly not the services.

  7. I like to use corporate rates in North America. I don’t do it in Europe.

    If a hotel is selling a room at 110 vs 270, seriously?

  8. @ janyyc: websearch for an image of the typical corporate biz card. create something similar in excel or paint, upload it to, get 50 biz cards for free. then book your big discount in europe, asia, wherever

  9. We also use AAA at many restaurants and tourist attractions. Most places you have to ask if they have AAA discounts.

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