May082009

How I search hotel rates

I am a leisure traveler by years of training. When I spent over 100 nights a year in hotels as a business traveler in the early 90s, I accumulated plenty of miles and points, but dates ruled my travel instead of price. The fundamental difference between leisure and business travel is the focus on price. When no reimbursement is coming for your hotel expenses there is incentive to find lower room rates.

The next few months offer an unprecedented opportunity to earn free nights with Starwood and InterContinental Hotels Group. Many of my travel strategies are better suited for a flexible leisure traveler rather than a time-schedule-dependent business traveler. A leisure traveler planning to book multiple stays can save some significant cash by studying hotel rates over a period of time, a day or two or even a week or two before booking hotels. You only know you have scored a good hotel rate after you have seen enough room rate variation to determine what is a low rate for the particular hotel.

How I search hotel rates when planning a major leisure trip (and for Starwood Promotion):

1.    Set up a spreadsheet of hotels and dates for your destination. Here is a portion of my San Francisco Bay Area spreadsheet.

2.    Maintain notes of rate changes. Some hotels change rates up or down several times a week. (Red triangles in some cells are comment boxes with rate change notes.)

3.    Check the hotel website and a meta-search engine like Kayak.com periodically, once a day or every couple days. Look for discrepancies.

 

san-francisco-starwood-hotel-rates-may-1to7-2009

Spreadsheet for Starwood Hotel Rates in San Francisco Bay Area-May 1-7, 2009

San Francisco search area on StarwoodHotels.com displays 21 Starwood properties. The aloft Santa Clara hotel is listed but that hotel is not scheduled to open until 2011.

My basic planning strategy when organizing a trip is to make a spreadsheet of rates for my travel dates and follow hotel rates for several days or even weeks when planning an international trip or promotion fulfillment.

This chart is much larger than most rate charts I create due to the Starwood promotion and my ability to travel anywhere in the Bay Area for hotels. Normally I would have far fewer hotels in a more limited geographic area and fewer dates to check. The process is not so daunting when dealing with a three night stay in Seattle.

Setting up the chart takes time and then it is just a matter of performing periodic rate searches on StarwoodHotels.com to note changes in room rates. All the red triangle cells have a comment note showing rate changes and date. I can track the rate changes over a couple of weeks and note patterns for days when rates change, and the range of rates.

Some hotels in San Francisco like The Palace, Le Meridien, Westin Market Street, and Westin St. Francis have a room rate range of around $200 between the lowest rate nights and the highest rate nights. This means you may be able to book the room for $110 one night and another night the lowest rate will be $310. Choosing nights carefully for the best rates is a luxury leisure travelers have as a consumer strategy.

Finding Best Rate Guarantee Claims

·         Build a rate spreadsheet for your desired hotels and dates using StarwoodHotels.com rates (or whatever hotels you are tracking).

·         Check Kayak.com or some other meta-search engine for hotel rates.

·         Filter the rates for just Starwood Hotels (or whatever hotels you are tracking).

·         Look for discrepancies in price and room category. Sometimes a higher category room will have a better rate at an Online Travel Agency (OTA) like Hotels.com or Orbitz.com than you find at the hotel branded websites.

·         Submit a Best Rate Guarantee claim when you find a discrepancy. Starwood has an online claim form. Simply fill out the form listing the hotel, dates, and room type. List Starwood hotels lowest rate from a regular search which is usually some type of nonrefundable rate.

·          I have been finding discrepancies for more than 50% of the hotel nights I have booked this year. I think there is a lot of juggling with hotel rates in this economic climate.

My basic hotel booking rules:

·         Always try and book a refundable room, at least up to the day before arrival, in case I need to cancel. 

·         Once I have decided on a hotel or a small group of hotels, I check out the specific hotel website for special offer rates. There are sometimes incredible promotional deals for free meals or parking at the same low price or even lower.  Typically I will only find these on the hotel’s own website. (Sheraton Denver West had a special offer rate of $89 available on a Thursday night when the lowest rate I had found was $141 using AAA rate.)

·         I narrow my hotel selection to a small list of two or three hotels to examine rates closely for better room rate offers. It can take hours to check 20 hotel websites, find special offers, check sample rates for my projected hotel stay dates and compare to other rate options. Key is to balance search time with actual savings. Several hours to save $10 night on a room is not worthwhile. Saving $500 on a Hawaiian resort is worthwhile.

·         A $300 per night room is unlikely to be $109 on some other site. It happens, but rarely. Expect rate fluctuations of 10-25% over the course of a week or two in hotel rates on the hotel’s own sites. Knowing when to buy is a skill. Studying hotel rates typically allows me to book upper-upscale hotel rooms at rates around 50% of the average room rate for the hotel.

 

Hotel

Rate Booked

Lowest Rate found for date

Highest Rate seen for same date I booked

Highest Rate seen for hotel during same  Week

 

Rate difference between what I paid and highest rate of week.

1

Four Points SFO

$79 BRG

$89

$119

$129

$50

2

Westin Market Street

$110 BRG

$99

$239

$239

$129

3

Westin SFO

$81.75 AAA

$79 NR

$99

$199

$117

4

Westin St. Francis

$107 AAA

$107

$179

$269

$162

5

Palace Hotel

$104 Starpicks

$104

$149

$249

$145

6

W Silicon Valley

$89 AAA

$79

$89

$189

$100

7

Le Meridien

$111 Starpicks

$111

$139

$349

$138

8

Four Points SFO

$73 BRG

$75

$75

$129

$56

9

Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf

$90 BRG

$118

$125

$199

$109

10

Sheraton Denver Tech Center

$74 BRG

$74

$98

$129

$55

11

Sheraton Denver West

$89 Hotel Special Offer

$89

$144

$144

$55

12

Westin Westminster

$111 AAA

$111

$124

$179

$68

13

Westin Tabor

$129

$129

$129

$289

$160

14

Sheraton Denver Downtown

$79

$79

$79

$139

$60

 

 

$1,327

$1,343

$1,787

$2,831

$1,404

 

Rate Booked: These are the rates booked for my Starwood Hotel stays.

Lowest Rates: My $1,327 is actually $16 less than the lowest rates I found on StarwoodHotels.com. Several Best Rate Guarantee claims allowed me to pay a lower total rate than the lowest found on the Starwood hotel websites.  Two BRG claims were rates lower than found on Starwood Hotels.

Highest Rate for My Hotel Stay Dates: The rate I paid for my dates of booked hotel stays could have been as much as $450 more, 33% higher if I had booked the same type hotel room for the same date on a different day of my searches. I watched rates over a couple of weeks and booked during rate changes. Studying hotel rates over a couple of weeks allowed me to save $450 and earn 12,000 additional points from Best Rate Guarantee claims.

Highest Rate of Week: The problem for business travelers is the exorbitant hotel rates during conferences and events. My hotel spending for 14 stays could have actually been twice the amount I paid if I had needed to stay on different dates at the same hotel during the same week.

The same hotels could have been as high as $2,831 if I had booked different dates during the same week. I paid less than 50% on average over 14 nights at $1,327 compared to the highest room rates of $2,831.

Rate Difference: I saved $1,404 compared to the highest rates at the hotel during the same week of my stays.

I stayed at the Westin Market Street on a Saturday night for $110 on a Best rate Guarantee claim. The week before I could have booked the hotel on StarwoodHotels.com for $99. If I had needed Friday night the hotel would have cost $239.

 

westin-market-street-corner-suite-5-3-09

Westin Market Street, San Francisco, Corner Suite 3306 – $110 rate

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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Comments

  1. As someone who books maybe once or twice a year, I am confounded by the number of additional fees that can be accessed by the hotel – and none of these come to light until AFTER you go through the booking process and are finalized.

    Of course, they cover this in the fine print with “Some additional fees may apply”.

    In most instances, that hotel you booked for $110/night, will have $30-50 per night added at check-in.

    This is well-known to professional travelers, evidently, but novices pay the price.

    I see it as plain theft. What are you gonna do, try to cancel and book another hotel?

    It’s stealing, and it’s industry-wide.

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