Priceline used to have amazing deals on spoiling hotel inventory. They’d offer rooms for ‘opaque bidding’ hoping to get some revenue for rooms that would sit empty, without lowering room rates for others that would book them anyway at higher prices.
Hotels, hurting during the pandemic, made rooms available at a discount for a variety of other purposes too – discount rates for ‘health care heroes’ to get away, rates for governments to use as quarantine facilities.
Whenever there are discounts there are arbitrage opportunities but it’s one thing to arbitrage the rate, it’s another to also arbitrage who is paying for the room, as one woman and her accomplice found out.
Lewis, 30, and three other accomplices are alleged to have advertised the rooms on Facebook and to have made a whopping $400,000 by booking more than 2,700 nights’ worth of stays in the spring and summer of last year.
Lewis, whose actual job was to book quarantine rooms on behalf of the city, had access to health-care workers’ personal information through her work at the Office of Emergency Management. But she allegedly used their credentials to book stays for her guests instead, making it look like they had been exposed to COVID. “I stole some doctor numbers and emails … I was writing down they employed ID number lmao,” prosecutors say Lewis wrote in a Facebook message. The hotel rooms, which would normally run hundreds of dollars a night, went for only $50 a night and $150 for the week. She then took the cash, prosecutors say, and the city was billed for the rooms. The grift went so well that Lewis recruited others to help her out. “I wanna teach u the ropes of it,” she messaged her co-conspirator Tatiana Benjamin, 26, in June.
When this all came out, they continued communicating in writing about the scheme and texted, “We goin to jail lmao.” LMAO indeed.