Who doesn’t like a deal? Even more so when it comes with no strings attached. These days, loyalty and frequent flyer programs can deliver better rates and perks for hotel rooms and resort bookings through their own reservation channels. But, if you’re like many of us obsessed with online price comparisons, you start your search for rates and perks using discount sites like expedia.com, booking.com, priceline.com, zuji.com, or any of the dozens of online travel agents (OTAs). We ask you, Wise Travellers, to dig deeper into the details so that you don’t end up paying more than you should. We’ve got some tips for scoring the best room rate and navigating those inevitable rate searches.
First, consider the purpose and budget of your trip. If you’re on business and need to be working remotely from your room all day, your needs may be different to those going on holidays with scheduled day trips and sightseeing. Consider the hotel amenities. Gym facility? Pool? Lots of onsite F&B options? Breakfast or complimentary coffee/tea service included with the rate? Unlimited cable TV stations? Free Wi-Fi? Location? Take a moment to define what you want and need—and what you don’t need (and might be paying for). Also consider alternative accommodation options such as home stays.
When it comes to the search, the initial price of a room you get presented is (almost) never what you end up paying. Some hotel booking sites list a cheap rate, which is used as “bait” with only one room at that price, without taxes or surcharges. Other listings offer lowball pricing with loaded conditions, such as “no cancellations allowed”, along with paying 100% upfront, with others strictly enforcing rules such as a 4PM check in and a 10AM check out. Booking blindly on the bigger websites can be a good solution for those seeking the lowest price, with the potential of enjoying staggering discounts at reliable hotels, but be vigilant of the terms and conditions. These can also be costly if you need flexibility, or there is an unforeseen change to your itinerary.
If keeping track of loyalty points and credit cards issued by banks that give hotel points for purchases is your addiction, you should still be aware that the global hotel groups do not always offer a better rate with your points. (Airlines don’t always offer the best points-for-miles trade-in either.) It can be beneficial to take a few minutes to calculate point usage and point accumulation versus paying a discounted rate.
Be aware of “best rate guarantee” claims tagged on room rates because the conditions for these types of room reservations are rarely revealed in a way that is obvious. Even with our Wise Traveller private member discounts there are conditions on the best rate guaranteed. Remember, hotel room rates are dynamic, meaning they can change daily, even hourly, and all reservations are subject to conditions.
Also, be cautious of conditions such as blackout periods, open rooms, or cancellations policy. Hotels directly engage in last-minute marketing hype because hotel room sales have an expiration date. Once the night has passed, the hotel cannot get that room night back, and an empty hotel room is a lost revenue opportunity. Hotels work with a variety of room-sales vendors to sell that room before the night is gone. Knowing this can help you negotiate better rooms rates. Sites such as roomauction.com or onlybidding.com allow you to take advantage of this via an auction concept, but know in advance what you’re looking for and your travel dates.
Private hotel rates available via memberships and subscriptions can also provide huge discounts well beyond a hotel’s public online rates. A single booking could easily cover the cost of membership, however today’s public online discount environment makes many wary of investing in such options upfront before knowing how big a discount might be achievable.
Want to know what goes into calculating the price of a room and why hotels adhere to a “will not go below” rate for each room, at least for larger hotels? The calculation includes housekeeping, electricity for heating/AC, numerous taxes, fees & levies, cable, or streaming TV costs, Wi-Fi, staffing costs for the things you don’t see and of course for those you do. Added to the mix are statistics on average spend per person per night, recent occupancy rates, average daily room rates, commissions paid to OTAs, even the psychology behind walk-in price elasticity based on the time you walk in. All of this is akin to a form of black magic rarely revealed to the average guest. So don’t be surprised if you walk in at 2am expecting a huge discount because ‘the hotel has rooms available’ and little to none is provided. You may well have just become one of the best revenue opportunities for the day.
That’s why The Wise Traveller members enjoy not only great travel insurance but also the many other benefits like our private booking discounts knowing they are fair and upfront.