The Ultimate Guide to Best Rate Guarantees
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With an increasingly competitive travel landscape, prices are bound to fluctuate — and savvy travelers can take advantage of the fact that many companies are competing for bookings. Best rate guarantees (BRGs) have been around for a long time, and if you’re not taking advantage of them, you’re missing out. Simply put, if you find a lower price than the company’s own published rate, there’s an incentive for you to take the extra step and fill out a BRG form — free cash, certificates or points could be yours!
While we’d love to see all travel companies offer lucrative benefits for catching a better price, not all do. All will match your rate to the lower price, but hotels often go above and beyond, even though there are strict rules and conditions that must be met.
We’ll outline the policies and offers (along with easy access links to file a claim) from many of the popular hotels, airlines, car rental companies, cruise lines and online travel agents, so you can start benefiting from doing a little extra homework. No matter where you book, remember that The Platinum Card® from American Express now lets you earn 5x points on airfare purchases when you book directly with the airline or with Amex Travel. You can also earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points by paying for any travel, hotel or dining expenses with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
If you find a lower rate somewhere other than the hotel’s website and book through the other site rather than filling out a best rate guarantee form with the hotel, you’ll forgo any extra benefits you’d be entitled to as an elite member. Unlike airlines, hotels only give elite benefits to guests who book directly with them.
In addition, hotel BRGs generally require you to submit the claim within 24 hours of making the reservation in order for the claim to be considered (in addition to other restrictions noted below), and hotels typically won’t approve a claim if it’s from a paid membership/club website that requires a login or sign-up to access rates (even if membership is free). Your claim must also be for a publicly visible rate having the same stay dates, length of stay, room type and same included amenities.
Both of these legacy chains are among the most valuable hotel BRG programs, awarding guests the lower found price and a 25% nightly discount when a claim is submitted and approved. If you’re staying at any of Marriott’s or Hilton’s sister brands, such as JW Marriotts or Embassy Suites properties, you can still submit a claim and be entitled to the discount. (Marriott excludes select Ritz-Carlton hotels and select other brands.) As long as the rate has at least a $1 difference, Marriott should honor the claim. For Hilton, the lower rate must be found on an “official Hilton booking channel,” such as an accredited travel agent (standard for most other brands as well).
In 2016, Hilton upgraded its BRG program, since earlier, guests were offered a $50 American Express gift card instead of a 25% discount. Hilton requires the form to be submitted prior to 24 hours of the hotel’s standard check-in time and within 24 hours of booking your initial reservation. For Marriott, if the lower competing rate “is found on the day of arrival, the claim must be submitted by 10pm of that day in the hotel’s time zone in order to ensure timely processing.”
IHG used to match the lower price in addition to offering the first night for free, but it stopped doing this in early 2018. Now, those with successful best rate guarantee claims will get a matched rate and 5x the points — up to 40,000 points for the room rate for that hotel stay, instead of a first night for free.
In addition to requiring the claim to be submitted within 24 hours, IHG specifies that it “must be submitted at least 24 hours prior to the standard check-in time at the applicable IHG hotel.”
Despite the merger of Starwood and Marriott, the BRG programs, as well as many parts of the two companies, are still separate — for the time being. Starwood isn’t quite as generous as Marriott — only offering to match the lower published rate plus a 20% nightly discount, or a total of 2,000 Starpoints. With TPG’s valuations in mind, the 2,000 points you’d receive would equate to about $54. In most cases, it would only make sense to accept the points offer if you’re staying for just a single night, since the savings over multiple nights would most likely be greater than $54. The claim must be submitted “at least 24 hours (48 hours for non-English Starwood websites) before the standard check-in time at the applicable Starwood Hotel or SPG Partner Hotel,” in addition to filing within 24 hours of making your reservation.
Hyatt recently changed its BRG offer from a matched rate and a 20% discount for your entire stay to just a matched rate and a $50 toward your next stay. Although Hyatt used to accept BRGs over the phone, guests are now required to submit a form online, unless they’re submitting in another language. The claim must be submitted prior to 24 hours of the standard check-in time of the hotel.
The last, and possibly the least attractive, offer is from Wyndham, which will only net you a matched nightly rate at the lower price, and 3,000 Wyndham Rewards points. Keeping in mind how we value points and miles, the 3,000 Wyndham Reward points you’d receive would translate to about $36. Like the other chains, Wyndham includes its many hotel brands as part of its BRG program. Unlike other brands, Wyndham sets the cut-off window for filing within 24 hours of booking, and completing the form no later than 48 hours prior to the hotel’s check-in time on your scheduled date of arrival.
|Hotel||Best Rate Guarantee Offer||Claim Time Frame|
|Hilton||Matched lower rate + 25% nightly discount||Between 24 hours of booking and at least 24 hours prior to hotel’s check-in time|
|Marriott||Matched lower rate + 25% nightly discount||Within 24 hours of booking, or 10pm on day of arrival|
|IHG||Matched lower rate + first night free||Between 24 hours of booking and at least 24 hours prior to hotel’s check-in time|
|Starwood||Matched lower rate + 20% nightly discount, OR 2,000 total Starpoints||Between 24 hours of booking and at least 24 hours prior to hotel’s check-in time|
|Hyatt||Matched lower rate + $50 toward your next stay||Between 24 hours of booking and at least 24 hours prior to hotel’s check-in time|
|Wyndham||Matched lower rate + 3,000 Wyndham Rewards points||Between 24 hours of booking and at least 48 hours prior to hotel’s check-in time|
Although not as common, an airline BRG can be very rewarding. After reaching out to American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, it’s become apparent that none of those carriers offer BRG offers at the time of this writing. However, with Southwest you can utilize the no change fee policy to rebook flights at a lower rate if the fare drops after you book a ticket.
Airlines aren’t known for offering many extra benefits to customers who find lower prices, but Delta stands out, offering you a refund of the fare difference plus a $100 travel voucher. In order to qualify, your claim must match specific conditions exactly. You must first book on Delta’s website, then file a claim if you come across a lower fare.
Delta requires that the lower fare be at least $10 less per ticket, and the ticket must be an adult fare originating in the US, US Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico. Furthermore, you must submit the claim by 11:59pm on the day of purchasing the ticket from Delta. To be eligible, the lower fare must be found on a US-based website and must be for the exact same Delta flight, date, number of passengers, cabin and booking/fare class.
JetBlue offers customers who find a lower, publicly available fare a $100 travel voucher, which is non-transferable and valid for only one year. However, the airline won’t issue you a refund for the fare difference.
Once you find a “lower JetBlue fare (including taxes and fees) on another website for the exact same flight(s), itinerary, date(s), number of travelers and seat type,” call JetBlue (1-800-538-2583), by 11:59pm of purchasing the ticket, and provide the customer service agent with the URL you found.
|Airline||Best Rate Guarantee Offer||Claim Time Frame|
|Delta||Refunded fare difference + $100 travel voucher||By 11:59pm of the evening you purchased ticket|
|JetBlue||$100 travel voucher||By 11:59 of the evening you purchased ticket|
Compared to hotels and airlines, it’s easy to find lower prices for car rentals on OTAs. Unfortunately, after reaching out to Alamo Car Rental, National Car Rental, Enterprise Car Rental and Avis Car Rental, we’ve learned that none of them are currently offering a BRG.
This is the only major rental agency to offer a BRG, though it isn’t that generous. Hertz will match the lower price, and give you a 10% discount off the rental car rate. The lower rate must have been found using the same pick-up location, reservation dates and rental car type. The rate differential will be based on the base rate of the vehicle, and will not include taxes, fuel, surcharges or any other ancillary charges. The offer only applies to car rentals at select participating US and Canadian locations, although not specified further.
Some of the main cruise lines on the seven seas offer a 110% difference in the lower stateroom price publicly found, but only refunded via an onboard credit to your shipboard account. Claims must be submitted within 48 hours of booking. In other words, if you find a price that’s $100 lower, you’d receive a $110 shipboard credit. Norwegian Cruise Line is the only one of the above three that gives guests a choice: You can either simply have NCL re-price your cruise to match the lower price, or receive 110% of the difference in an onboard credit (which can be used toward meals, drinks, shore excursions and more).
|Cruise Line||Best Rate Guarantee Offer||Claim Time Frame|
|Norwegian||Re-price cruise OR 110% difference in form of onboard credit||Within 48 hours of booking|
|Royal Caribbean||110% difference in form of onboard credit||Within 48 hours of booking|
|Carnival||110% difference in form of onboard credit||Within 48 hours of booking|
Online Travel Agents
Just like hotels and airlines, OTAs will compensate you if you’re able to find a lower price on a competing site.
Since Expedia owns many OTA sites, such as Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com and more, it’s fitting that all their BRG offers are quite similar, though each has some distinctions. Expedia will offer you a credit (to your Expedia account) or a refund of the difference in prices and a $50 travel coupon to be used on a future booking of an Expedia rate hotel or air plus hotel package with a $200 minimum cost, before taxes and fees. For flights, vacation packages, rental cars, cruises or activities, you must file a claim within 24 hours of booking, but for hotels, you can file the claim by 11:59pm Pacific time two days before your scheduled check-in date.
Orbitz offers you a refund of the difference in prices and $50 bonus Orbucks (a coupon) to use toward future travel bookings. Only Orbitz Rewards members are entitled to the $50 bonus travel voucher, but anyone can instantly create an account with Orbitz to take advantage of the BRG benefit. The key difference between the two offers are the timing for vacation package BRGs. You must file your claim within 24 hours of booking your flights, car rentals, cruises or activities. For vacation packages, the claim must be submitted up until 48 hours after booking, and up to 48 hours before check-in for hotels.
If you find a lower price, you’ll be refunded 100% of the price difference for regular bookings, and 200% of the price difference for Express Deals or Name Your Own Price deals. In other words, if you find a price that’s $100 less, you’d receive a $100 refund for regular bookings or a $200 refund for special booking transactions. For non pre-paid bookings, Priceline will either help you cancel your reservation so you can rebook at the lower price, or refund you 100% of the difference after travel is completed. Similar to JetBlue’s BRG, Priceline only accepts claims via phone (1-800-774-2354), which can benefit you since you can promote your case to the representative directly.
|Online Travel Agent||Compensation Received||Claim Time Frame|
|Expedia||Credit or Refund difference + $50 travel coupon||Within 24 hours of booking for flights, vacation packages, rental cars, cruises or activities, OR by 11:59pm PT 2 days before your scheduled check-in date|
|Orbitz||Refund difference + $50 Orbucks coupon||Within 24 hours of booking for flights, car rentals, cruises or actives, OR up until 48 hours after booking packages, OR up to 48 hours of check-in for hotels|
|Priceline||Refund difference + 100% of the price difference, OR 200% of price for Express Deals or Name Your Own Prices||Within 24 hours of booking, OR up until midnight the day before you travel for Express Deals and Name Your Own Prices|
BRG Success in Action
Recently, I found a lower competing rate on Expedia.com for a stay at the Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden Hotel. Since the lower rate was publicly available and on a well-known US booking site, I quickly made my reservation with Marriott, and submitted a claim — all within a few minutes. Marriott offered the nightly rate at about $131, while Expedia offered the rate at about $77.
Overnight, I received an email from Marriott (see below) which outlined my price-matched rate and an additional 25% reduction from the lower rate found. So, instead of paying $131, I ending up paying about $58 for my one-night stay.
When booking trips, you should always be mindful of the prices you’re committing to, and don’t doubt yourself if you see different prices from multiple sources. Once you find a lower price, check out the BRG offerings available to you, read the terms and conditions (highlighted above), submit a claim, sit back, relax and wait to hear back.
Featured image courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Ft. Lauderdale.
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