Saving Money on Hotels With Best Rate Guarantees
You've probably noticed it before, an advert on a hotel website that reads something like: "lowest rates, guaranteed." Maybe that touted guarantee made you more comfortable with the room you just booked, maybe it convinced you not to devote any more time to shopping around, or maybe you ignored it entirely. In any case, best rate guarantees are ubiquitous in the hotel industry, and understanding how (and when) they work can help you maximize your travel.
Best rate guarantees are offered by almost all major hotel brands. These guarantees became fashionable as a way for hotels to mitigate the loss of business to third party sites, which take a sizable cut of each booking (incidentally, most of the third party sites now also offer their own best rate guarantees).
The basic idea is that if you book a room and subsequently find that same room listed elsewhere for less, the hotel will drop its price even lower to beat the competing rate (or will match rates and compensate you in another way). Each hotel has its own guarantee and corresponding litany of rules. The table below summarizes the best rate guarantees for most major hotel brands. Use the provided links to view complete terms and conditions on each hotel's website.
|Accor||Beat competing rate by 10%||Within 24 hours of booking|
|Best Western||Match competing rate + $100 Best Western travel card||Within 24 hours of booking|
|Choice||1st night free and match competing rate||Within 24 hours of booking and at least 72 hours prior to arrival|
|Club Carlson||Beat competing rate by 25%||Within 24 hours of booking and at least 48 hours prior to arrival|
|Hilton||Match competing rate + $50||Within 24 hours of booking AND at least 24 hours prior to arrival|
|Hyatt||Beat competing rate by 20%||Prior to or within 24 hours of booking|
|IHG||1st night free and match competing rate||Within 24 hours of booking|
|Kimpton||Match competing rate + $25||Unspecified|
|Marriott||Beat competing rate by 25%||Within 24 hours of booking.|
|Starwood||Beat competing rate by 10% OR receive 2,000 Starpoints per stay||Prior to or within 24 hours of booking|
|Wyndham||Beat competing rate by 10%||Within 1 business day of booking and at least 2 business days prior to arrival|
Clearly some guarantees are more generous than others. IHG and Choice Hotels will simply make your first night free, even if you're only staying one night. I'm no mathematician, but that seems like a substantial discount. Club Carlson and Marriott offer to beat competing rates by 25%, so if the competing rate is already 5% lower, the guarantee could cut your cost by almost a third. Plus, you'd earn points and credit towards elite status, which normally aren't offered for stays booked on third party sites.
Best Western offers a $100 gift card, which in many cases could actually exceed the room rate. Hilton also offers cash in the form of a $50 American Express cheque (in the USA, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Canada) or $50 off your bill elsewhere. Hyatt offers a respectable 20% off the competing rate. The Wyndham and Accor guarantees seem meager in comparison. Starwood also offers only 10%, though they allow you to choose 2,000 Starwood points instead. Starwood points are worth about 2.1 cents apiece, so the guarantee would get you about $42 worth of value. That's almost certain to be worth more than 10% off for a one night stay, and often for a two night stay.
At face value, best rate guarantees are great for both hotels and customers: the hotel protects its revenue, and customers get the best price available while scoring loyalty program benefits. It seems like a win-win scenario. In practice, however, best rate guarantees are often a win-lose proposition, and I bet you can guess who usually does the losing.
Best rate guarantees come with a deluge of fine print (with the exception of Kimpton, which adds just a single paragraph with the cryptic postscript "further restrictions may apply"). Most stipulate that the competing price must be publicly available, immediately bookable, and must pertain to an equivalent service (i.e., same room type, number of guests, view). The original booking must be made on the hotel's own website.
Guarantees don't apply to rates found on opaque or auction sites where the hotel brand is unknown until booking is complete (such as the name your own price feature on Priceline), nor do they apply to package rates that include airfare, entertainment, meals, or other amenities. Group rates, discounted rates (like AAA), and corporate rates are ineligible. Finally, the lower price must be some amount (generally $1 or 1%) less than the rate on the hotel website. Each hotel may have further rules unique to the brand, but these are the most common.
Beyond the fairly reasonable restrictions mentioned above, hotels are notoriously finicky about honoring best rate guarantees. Some seem to go so far to not honor guarantees that the amount of effort put into denying them dwarfs what they would have to cough up by honoring them.
I have heard anecdotes of claims being swatted down for purely asinine reasons; my favorite is a Best Western claim that was initially denied because the hotel's website formatted dates as month/day/year, while the lower price was formatted as day/month/year. This trivial disparity was evidently enough for Best Western, who rejected the claim and stonewalled appeals from the customer until a travel writer stepped in and the threat of negative publicity made them reconsider.
The most prevalent crusher of claims is the service window between when a claim is made and when the hotel responds. Most hotels advertise what seems like a fairly prompt 24-48 hour response time. However, in the world of online booking sites, even a few hours delay can spell the death of the lower, competing rate. Remember, it's not the rate that you see that matters, but the rate a hotel representative sees when he or she attempts to substantiate your claim. Thus, a majority of claims are denied simply because the price changes before the hotel can process it. Kimpton is once again the exception, as they process claims in real time via a toll-free number rather than use an online form.
This is all to say that while best rate guarantees offer value, your case should be airtight when you file a claim. A few screenshots might help your cause, and having any kind of elite status can't hurt. If you can't get traction on a claim, try politely engaging the hotel's social media team on Facebook, Twitter, or another platform, as they may be able to offer an acceptable solution outside of the guarantee. In the long run, though, your time and sanity is worth more than whatever you'd save by pushing the issue, so be prepared to let a best rate guarantee claim go if you meet with stout resistance.
Have you had experience with Best Rate Guarantees? Please share your successes and horror stories in the comments below.